Cerebus Call Back

A specific type of Call-Back wherein a previously humorous or light hearted moment in the continuity is called back to and takes on a much harsher tone. For example a previously funny catch phrase will be repeated on someone's deathbed or a light-hearted memory will be referenced, making the memory take on a darker tone.

Compare Cerebus Retcon when a comedy plot element is deconstructed and played straight and Dark Reprise when it's a song. See also "Funny Aneurysm" Moment for an unintentional version of this. Note that it only counts when the previous moment is actually referenced. When it's a form of dialogue reversal, see Ironic Echo. When the thing being called back to seemed like more of a throwaway than anything, that's Meaningful Echo. When an apparent throwaway gag turns out to be significant to the plot, it's a Chekhov's Gag.


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     Comic Books 

  • In Coraline, each of the wonders that the Other Mother made become this. She gets terrorized by the birds and plants in the garden, the theater ends up being filled with dog-bats while the Other Spink and Forcible have turned into taffy monsters, and in Other Bobinski's circus she is attacked by everything in the room (including the cotton candy cannons) with the mice turning into rats.
  • In Tangled as Flynn lies dying he whispers to Rapunzel "You were my new dream" referencing a light-hearted song from earlier in the film "I've Got A Dream".
    • Also referencing Flynn and Rapunzel's conversation while waiting for the lanterns. When Rapunzel asked what would happen to her after her dream of seeing the lanterns was fulfilled, Flynn answered, "Well, that's the good part, I guess. You get to go find a new dream."
  • During the number "A Guy Like You" in The Hunchback of Notre Dame the gargoyles give Quasimodo the Ace of Hearts card while they're trying to convince him that Esmerelda would love him. Shortly after this when he sees Esmerelda kissing Phoebus, he pulls out the card and rips it up.
  • In Sausage Party, the film is rather bright and cheery, with the foods believing that once they're chosen that they will be going to heaven. Of course, some of the foods end up expiring and are sent straight to the trash can by Darren the Dark Lord...but that's about it, and it's likely most of the foods are going to be chosen anyway. However, it eventually becomes apparent what the Great Beyond actually is, and the film suddenly takes a much darker turn.

     Film-Live Action 
  • In The Princess Diaries Mia and Clarisse go out for a day of fun and take a string of funny photos together in a booth. After Mia has been publicly humiliated at the beach party, when Clarisse is criticising her you see Mia looking sadly at the photos.
    • Also, early in the film, the scene before Mia visits Clarisse for the first time, Mia and her classmates are put in a choir to sing a song called "Catch a Falling Star". Said song is also sung during the climax, when Mia is on her car out on the pouring rain.
  • A Knight's Tale has a scene where William first arrives in London, he imagines that a young boy cheering him on is himself as a child. Later on as he sits in the stocks the same boy runs up to him and slaps him in the face.
  • The Hole has a really dark example. In Liz's version of events the group make up a fake scenario to fool Martyn. The scene is done comically but then when we see the real story the same things they used appear again such as Frankie getting sick (and eventually dying), the water going off and everyone ganging up on Liz.
  • The Breakfast Club has Brian talking about how he failed shop because he couldn't make a ceramic elephant, which leads into a bit of joking on the part of the others. A few minutes later when the entire discussion has gone a bit more dramatic, Brian reveals he brought a gun to school because he couldn't get the elephant to work, implying he wanted to kill himself. It gets subverted when they all end up laughing about it anyway, as it was a) a flare gun, and b) he further implies he was going to use it to destroy the elephant.
  • The group picture the girls in The Descent take of themselves the morning of the caving trip shows up at the end with the credits rolling over it.
  • In Thelma & Louise, Thelma and Louise take a polaroid photo of themselves at the start of their trip and stick it to the rear view mirror in the car. The photo flies off the mirror just as the car goes plunging into the Grand Canyon.
  • In the horror film The Innocents, we first Flora's pet tortoise, Rupert, in a number of lighthearted scenes early in the film. He appears for the last time towards the end, when an arguably possessed Miles throws him through a greenhouse wall in a fit of blind fury, presumably killing him.

  • In Animorphs, Rachel is initially simply more short-tempered than the others, causing Marco to refer to her as "Xena: Warrior Princess." However, as the book series goes on, she starts becoming more and more violent, culminating with her going on a suicide mission that involves a lot of bloodshed.
  • In the first novel of Accel World, Haruyuki, facing his friend Takumu in a duel, declares that even if Taku is better than him at most things, Haru can't be defeated at video games. Despite being at a disadvantage against Taku, since they're respectively Level 1 and Level 4, Haru awakens his unique Flight ability and has Taku at his mercy, but allows the duel to end in a draw so that Taku doesn't lose all his points. Ten volumes later, Haru, now Level 5, goes up against Wolfram Cerberus, a Level 1, and ends up losing badly, in large part due to Cerberus' Physical Immunity move. Haru, realizing that the tables have been turned, and he's the higher level player who loses to a newcomer with a strong ability, feels awful about saying such a thing to Taku, but Taku doesn't hold it against him.

     Live Action TV 
  • The Charmed episode "Vaya Con Leos" opens with a humorous scene of Leo trying to persuade Piper to buy an old van. At the end of the episode when he has to be taken away to save his life Piper is seen in the garage tearfully looking at the van.
  • In the Angel episode "A Hole In The World" there is a Running Gag early on about the characters arguing on who would win in a fight - cavemen or astronauts. Towards the end of the episode as Fred lies dying, infected with the spirit of an ancient demon she whispers "cavemen win, cavemen always win" as a reference to the plot parallel of their modern technologies being unable to stop the ancient demon.
    • The same episode has a light-hearted flashback scene of Fred packing up her things preparing to move to Los Angeles. At the end of the next episode when Fred has died they show another scene of her waving goodbye to her parents and driving off to Los Angeles.
    • In the episode where Doyle dies, there is a lighthearted scene with him making a commercial for Angel Investigations. The final product is shown at the end with his Heroic Sacrifice coloring the lines very differently. In particular, he says, "Is that it? Am I done?" asking about finishing the filming, but it becomes about his time on the show afterwards.
  • In Breaking Bad, Walter laughs about a furniture store jingle with a person he kidnapped. The furniture store is called Tampico, and as he eventually ends up killing the person he kidnapped in self defence just as he was about to let him go the next time they show the Tampico brand, it is quite a dark moment.
  • In the first episode of Kamen Rider Gaim, Kouta is looking for a missing friend when he's attacked by a monster. He transforms into Gaim for the first time and destroys it, and like the beginnings of other Kamen Rider series it's presented as a triumphant warrior ready to claim his heroic destiny. But later on, it's revealed that the monster that Kouta killed that day was his missing friend, turning the whole scene on its head. The series even managed to use this call back twice; once when the audience found out and again when Kouta himself discovered it.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: In "FZZT" Ward jumps out of an airplane to save Simmons. This gets him a slap-on-the-wrist reprimand from Coulson for endangering himself as well, but also endears him to the team as he shows that despite his Ineffectual Loner personality, he does care about them and has a Big Brother Instinct. Later, in "Providence", Ward cites this story as the moment he gained the rest of the team's trust. By that point, however, it had been revealed that Ward was actually an agent of HYDRA. He then goes on to explain how he saved Simmons solely to provoke this response.
  • The George Lopez Show: In the Season 3 premiere "Dubya, Dad and Dating", Benny makes an off-hand mention of a crime she committed 30 years ago in El Paso. At the beginning of Season 6, this funny joke becomes a full-blown story arc when Benny is arrested and put on trial for her crime.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation had an early episode "The Naked Now" when Tasha had sex with Data while everyone was intoxicated then at the end insisted it "never happened". More than a year later and after Tasha has died in the acclaimed episode, "The Measure of a Man", when Data was on trial to defend his rights, it's shown that he keeps a holographic image of Tasha. When asked why this particular crew member meant so much to him, he mentions how they'd been intimate.


  • In "Don't Let Me Go", Donkey's introductory song in Shrek The Musical, he sings, "You need a pal, my calendar's open!" to Shrek. Given the nature of the song and character, it's a silly plea to Shrek to take Donkey along with him. Cut to Shrek singing "Who I'd Be", where Donkey's line is repeated but in a much more somber context and is a more genuine attempt to reach out to Shrek and offer friendship; it's right after Shrek sings of being in the dark and alone for his entire life, before Donkey and Fiona showed him compassion.

     Video Games 

     Visual Novel 
  • Apollo Justice's "I'm fine!" catchphrase in the Ace Attorney series gets its fair share of these, the first being the Flashback to Catchphrase in "Dual Destinies" which reveals that Apollo and his childhood friend used to say it to convince themselves they were okay after their parents died, and again in "Spirit of Justice" where Trucy tries adopting it after her murder accusation but is very clearly being a Stepford Smiler.
  • Steins;Gate: When Ruka is first introduced, there is a Running Gag where Okabe will mention how ridiculously effeminate Ruka is, before saying "But... he's a guy!" This becomes a lot less funny the last time the gag is used, as by this time, Ruka has successfully (somehow) changed her gender to female at birth using D-Mail and is much happier as a result, but, as one of many changes made early in the story, must be changed back to save Mayuri's life and avert a Bad Future. And she knows it due to some Past-Life Memories leaking through. Okabe sounds extremely depressed when he says the line the final time.

     Web Comics 
  • Looking for Group: The dimwitted troll Tim is introduced early on and is a source of comedy with his ditzy stupid antics with his superior, Styx, joking that it's because he took too many blows to the head. The prequel stories revisits this with the reveal that Styx and Tim are brothers and Tim was actually very witty and coherent in his youth and took care of Styx (then a child). After Tim's brain injury Styx grows older and cares for his now mentally impaired brother with their roles reversed.

     Web Original 
  • In Everyman HYBRID, A Day In The Life was a Breather Episode of sorts, until hidden clips in future videos paint a more sinister tone on the whole day.
  • In Suburban Knights, The Nostalgia Critic gives Ma-Ti the "important mission" of getting him a coffee to keep him out of the way. In the end, after Ma-Ti sacrifices his life to defeat Malachite, the Critic goes back home to find Ma-Ti got him the coffee after all. Cue tears.
    • Remember all that funny Becoming the Mask and Critic refusing to get into character? Well, Ma-Ti dies, he rips off his always-present tie while running to him, loses his glasses and looks like he can't bear to wear his full Critic costume when he's depressed at home.
  • Welcome to Night Vale: An early episode has the throw-away line, "As my mother always told me, One day someone is going to kill you, Cecil. And it will involve a mirror." Objectively a disturbing statement, but (like most things on the show) funny because of the delivery. And then a few episodes later we get to hear recordings he apparently made when he was a teenager (but now has no memory of), and the tape seems to end with 15-year-old Cecil being killed by some supernatural entity that came out of his mirror. Present-day Cecil is understandably freaked out and destroys the tape.
  • My Little Pony: The Mentally Advanced Series: Well not exactly a light moment Celestia tearing apart filly!Twilight's prized stuffed bumblebee, was meant to be just another element of Black Comedy in a show full of it. But in RDP: The Haunting, an Eldritch Abomination uses this experience, to brain wash her into aiding it
  • In RWBY, Cardin shoving Jaune into one of Beacon's rocket-propelled lockers and launching it is unfortunate, but still pretty funny. Two volumes later, Pyrrha does the same thing to him as a form of non-violent Percussive Prevention before she heads off to her suicidal duel against Cinder. This time, it's heartbreaking.

     Western Animation 
  • Family Guy episode "Screams of Silence: The Story of Brenda Q." is a Very Special Episode about Quagmire's sister and her abusive boyfriend, who actually appeared two seasons earlier as a throwaway gag in "Jerome is the New Black".
  • In Steven Universe, when Steven talked to Peridot for the first time in "Marble Madness", she asks if "Stevens" have replaced "humans" as Earth's dominant species. He denies that, telling her about his friends. This comes back to bite him when the people he mentioned become the targets of Aquamarine and Topaz.
    Steven: Oh no, there's lots of humans! There's my dad, Connie, Lars and Sadie, the mailman, Onion... I think... Lots of people!
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In "Ponyville Confidential", the Cutie Mark Crusaders' first attempt at journalism for the Foal Free Press ends with them in embarrassing situations; Scootaloo falls into a mud puddle, Sweetie Belle models a gaudy outfit, and Apple Bloom finds her baby pictures. Later on, it's revealed that Featherweight secretly took photographs of these moments, and Diamond Tiara blackmails them for trying to back out of writing hurtful gossip by threatening to publish them in the paper if they do.
    • In "It's About Time", Cerberus having wandered away from guarding the gates of Tartarus was treated as a one-off joke. Come the series 4 finale "Twilight's Kingdom", we learn that one of the most evil beings in Equestria escaped while Cerberus was away.
  • In the season one finale of Star vs. the Forces of Evil, "Storm the Castle", Star gets rid of Big Bad Wannabe Ludo by throwing him through a random portal with nothing but the clothes on his back, and it's played for laughs. Then in the season 2 episode "Ludo in the Wild" we find Ludo was driven half-mad by starvation and isolation after getting stranded in an inter-dimensional void, and then subsequently got stranded in a snowy wilderness. Ludo not only comes out of this experience tougher and meaner, but in the process finds the other half of Star's wand, which had been "cleaved" in the season one finale.
  • Parodied in The Simpsons episode "Dark Knight Court," in which it's revealed that Moe was apparently traumatized by Bart's prank calls to him, a Running Gag in the early seasons.
  • The fifth season of Samurai Jack introduced the Daughters of Aku, seven assassins trained from birth to believe Aku is a benevolent being and Jack is a menace that must be disposed of. This calls back to the first seasons "Aku's Fairy Tales" where Aku himself tried to brainwash children into thinking the same thing, but failed. Here we see the successful results of that and it's not pretty.
  • Kaeloo: Episode 105 shows flashbacks to several episodes where Stumpy was abused or made fun of by his friends. When you watch those episodes at first, they seem funny, but not when you see the poor kid remember those things with tears in his eyes and his friends finally realize just how cruel they've been.