As far as answers go, it was vaguely unsatisfying. Beth:
Is there any explanation that would have been satisfactory? Yorick:
I would have also accepted witchcraft
or anything involving nanobots.
People love a good mystery
, and will watch or read a story to the very end just to find out its answer. Sometimes though, for whatever reason, they don't like the answer. The fans then decide it would have been better to just leave the Plot Threads
hanging, which would have given them mulch for their Epileptic Trees
When a show has a premise
that hinges on one or more big unanswered questions, fans feel there is an obligation that these questions be answered. Failure to do so leads to The Chris Carter Effect
, which can turn off fans in frustration. Likewise, not answering enough
questions in a Kudzu Plot
alienates fans. The hard place to the above rock is that when a show, book, or movie answers a question and the answer isn't quite as epic, clever, or mind shattering
as imagined. Maybe fan expectations are just too high, or the answer is honestly unsatisfying.
It should be noted that one factor in whether fans expect a mystery to be resolved or not is how prominent and important it was made originally. LOST
made such a huge deal about the mystery of "the numbers" that expectations for the solution were raised to an incredible pitch. In the case of Sherlock Holmes
' backstory, though, it is made abundantly clear that it's irrelevant and that no clarification is to be expected.
When it is never settled how things are happening, it's Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane
It's just like how everybody wants their Ship
to go through, but when it does, the result is Shipping Bed Death
Whether a show is better served by answering all, some, or none of the questions it raises varies by viewer. It's worth noting that this trope doesn't just focus on answers that are unsatisfying, but situations where an unanswered question actually helped
the narrative. As you can expect, this is therefore YMMV.
Compare Canon Fodder
and The Unreveal
. If the explanation is disliked because it just raises further questions, then it's Voodoo Shark
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Paranoia Agent: The reveal of the true nature of Shonen Bat and Maromi, them both being a dog and a sketch from Tsukiko's childhood as well as aspects of a guilt-avoidence function she fabricated, may be considered anti-climactic. However, the show avoids this trope mostly by leaving many aspects vague or outright unexplained/concluded in order to increase suspense.
- The Halo Legends shorts quickly created a Broken Base due to their Broad Strokes regard to the canon, with later explanations only providing partial comfort. One such lose-lose situation was at the end of the The Package, where John fights an Elite Major in a sword fight referred to in the subtitles as "Thel". However, Halo: The Cole Protocol indicated that Thel 'Vadamee, the Arbiter from the original trilogy, had not fought a Spartan until he had already been promoted to Zealot. Others, however, liked the irony of 'Vadamee nearly killing John only to be his ally later in the series. But that was nullified with the updated release of Halo: The Fall Of Reach, which clarified that it was a different Elite fighting John named Thel 'Lodamee. Now the canon was fixed again, but the irony was lost because John lost to a random mook.
- MÄR has this in regards to how certain plotlines were concluded in the manga, particularly the reason for Snow's existence. The anime took a different approach and offered an entirely new explanation to fit within their revised ending. This change, as well as the anime's ending in general is typically preferred by the fans, who considered the manga's ending rushed, anti-climactic and unsatisfying.
- This is the reason we don't know The Joker's origin in Batman. Some people take Alan Moore's story as the truth but at the end the Joker himself says that his memories of his origin change from day to day.
- The same is true of The Phantom Stranger - he has four mutually exclusive origins, all of which were published in the same issue of one series and given equal weight. One of these was also written by Alan Moore. Meanwhile, in the New 52, The Phantom Stranger now has a definitive origin (He's Judas Iscariot).
- Invoked by Yorick at least once in Y: The Last Man, regarding the sudden death of every man in the world besides himself and his pet monkey. There is an answer that's explained to the characters, but it's the "vaguely unsatisfying" one of the page quote (unsatisfying to both the readers and the characters) and the writers give it no more weight than any of the other explanations. Of the three reasons set up in the first issue (Yorick's ring, Dr. Mann's baby and 355 with the Amulet of Helene) none of them really lasts the course. Says series writer Brian K. Vaughan on the subject:
I feel that there is a definitive explanation, but I like that people don't necessarily know what it is. In interviews we always said that we would tell people exactly what caused the plague. The thing was, we never said when we were going to tell. We weren't going to tell you when we were telling you, I should say. We might have told you in issue #3. There might have been something in the background that only a couple people caught. It might have been Dr. Mann's father's very detailed, scientific explanation. It might have been Alter's off-the-wall conspiracy theory. The real answer is somewhere in those 60 issues, but I prefer to let the reader decide which one they like rather than pushing it on them.
- 52, despite its ability to follow through its separate storylines being credited as one of the reasons for its success, left a few plot threads dangling, particularly with regards to Booster Gold and Skeets due to an Aborted Arc. The original storyline for Booster and Skeets involved them fixing the timeline of the universe, which had become broken in the recent Infinite Crisis. To set up this story Skeets had frequent memory errors, where events as they occurred were different (sometimes drastically so) than as they had been recorded in the future. However, after these issues had been written the writers decided that this plot was too generic, and had been done too often before by other time traveling heroes, so they decided to go in a different direction and have an actual malevolent entity responsible for everything, including Skeets out-of-character actions. Eventually, the series revealed that Skeets had been infested and was being controlled by Mr. Mind, who planned to eat reality. However, though this covered why Skeets himself was evil and why several of Booster later actions were disasters, it never addressed why Skeets' earlier memory errors occurred in the first place, since they were before Mr. Mind escaped from his cocoon.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Search: Many dislike the plot-twist that Zuko isn't Ozai's son, mainly because many fans feel it completely renders pointless a lot of Zuko's character development from the animated series and undermines its original aesop: "You are not your bloodline, your family does not define who you have to be." As it turns out, this twist isn't true, but the actual explanation- namely that Ursa lied about it to see if Ozai was reading her correspondence- makes her come across as incredibly petty, shortsighted, and stupid, because it led to Ozai abusing Zuko, so a lot of people aren't any happier about it. In addition, the reveal of why Ursa disappeared has become it's own Fan Disliked Explanation. She intentionally wiped her memories of her time with Ozai and her children because she couldn't endure the trauma she had suffered, essentially abandoning them to suffer at Ozai's hands. As most fans thought of Ursa as a Mama Bear who would do anything for her children, this has not gone down well at all.
- Many viewers have complained about the resolution of the various character quirks and apparent non sequiturs in M. Night Shyamalan's Signs.
- Part of the point of Cloverfield is that it doesn't explain anything about the monster's origins. The associated ARG and manga do, slightly, but not necessarily for the better.
- Star Wars:
- A lot of fans felt that the inclusion of midichlorians as a "cause" of the Force was an unsatisfying answer to a question no one asked. El Goonish Shive explains in in-depth here.
- Word of God's explanation that the "Balance of the Force" was not in fact the Balance Between Good and Evil but rather the destruction of evil also got a frosty reception in some circles. Given that the Force is Space Taoism, this shouldn't actually have been a surprise to anyone... if they knew anything about Taoism.
- The prequel trilogy tells the story of the Clone Wars, destruction of the Jedi, the creation of the Empire and the creation of Darth Vader, all of which had been alluded to but never fully explained. Dissatisfaction with how some or all of those stories turned out accounts for a good portion of the prequel hate.
- This is one the biggest reasons why the director's/final cut of Blade Runner is generally considered superior to the theatrical cut. The narration present in the latter removes all the ambiguity that makes the film a classic in the first place.
- One of the biggest complaints about Highlander II: The Quickening was that it established a mythology that the immortals are aliens from a planet known as Zeist, which only serves to raise more questions. The re-edits establish them as wizards from Earth's distant past. Either way, the film is no longer considered canon with the rest of the series.
- Some people feel this way about the scene of Roy Neary inside the mothership from the special edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. One of these people is Steven Spielberg himself, who had never wanted to do that scene in the first place, but could only get the money to create a special edition if he included something which a marketing campaign could be hung on. Years later, Spielberg created a director's edition, which removed that scene, but kept the other special edition scenes.
- In a rare example of the fan-disliked explanation happening early in a franchise, George Romero's Night of the Living Dead explains where the zombies are coming from early in the first film. However, the explanation of a "Radioactive Space Probe" didn't quite catch on, and later zombie media generally refuses to concretely explain the origins of the living dead. The universally reviled Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition (a re-release of the movie—which is in the Public Domain—with added scenes by a filmmaker not connected to George Romero) instead implies the zombie plague is demonic in origin.
- Some fans of the Alien series are not happy with the backstory laid out by Prometheus, or lack thereof. Specifically, the Proto-Xenomorph is born from a seemingly random series of events, and can't be the first Xenomorph because it's too late in the timeline and a carving of the Alien Queen was already seen earlier. Also, neither of the ships seen are set up to be the ship from the first movie, making what happens in the film just unconnected events in the same universe. Also the reveal that the Space Jockeys are nothing more than large albino Rubber-Forehead Aliens in alien space-suits rather than Starfish Aliens didn't go down too well.
- Isobelle Carmody's The Gathering is a young adult horror with a brilliantly foreboding sense of tension, paranoia and discord running throughout the entire story, with the imagery of things in the shadows and the gruesome image of the abattoir and the sense that something very evil has poisoned the whole city and everyone in it by literally poisoning the earth and that only these kids can repair the damage. We know that something big and terrible is going to happen, and we've got everything, including the dark, dismal skies. So the ending including the explanation of what happened to the last group of people who tried, and where the entire school shows up in the abattoir in warpaint and we see the big bad being... rather less than imposing was a bit of a let down.
- H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos might well be unknown if not for the championing and hard work of August Derleth ... but Derleth's own additions to the Mythos are widely disliked. His quasi-Fan Fiction imposes an orderly conceptual symmetry on it, and deals in humanly recognizable categories of morality — both of which are foreign to Lovecraft's conception, and tend to "domesticate" HPL's cosmic horrors into far duller and more traditional boogeymen.
- Though Stephen King's The Dark Tower books always suffered from a pretty bad case of Broken Base, the very end of the series—where we finally get a detailed look at the interior of the eponymous tower—was disliked by quite a few fans, who felt that it killed the mystery and enigma behind the Tower, which could otherwise be read as a universal stand-in for almost any unattainable desire. The narrator even warns the reader that he will probably find the epilogue unsatisfying, as it explains what Roland finds there. To elaborate: After seven books of searching for the Tower, Roland finds out that every level of it is filled with relics from various stages of his own life, and that the top floor houses a time warp that erases his memories and sends him back to the beginning of his quest. Though some fans liked it, others accused it of being an unsatisfying and unnecessary Mandatory Twist Ending.
- This is the usual reason people hated the last book in The Pendragon Adventure. The whole existence of Solara seemed to come from nowhere and some important answers (Such as who Saint Dane made his promise to) were never answered.
- Joan Lindsay's novel Picnic at Hanging Rock made its readers produce thousands of guesses about what is behind the girls' disappearances - from the whole thing being the work of a rapist/kidnapper to the headmistress molesting girls and driving them to suicide to the rock itself trapping them inside. After the author's death, the eighteenth chapter with the explanation was finally released. As it turned out, the girls turned into lizards and got sucked into a time warp. The fans felt that it was anticlimactic and nonsensical. Even Peter Weir, the director of The Film of the Book, to whom the author showed the ending chapter, advised her not to publish it and didn't include it into a movie.
- Hannibal Rising explains that Hannibal's cannibalistic habits are the result of realizing the soup he'd been served by a set of soldiers contained the remains of his little sister, among other details that spoil the mystery of where Hannibal came from and how he became what he is. Harris claims that he never wanted to write a prequel, but was told by his publishers that, if he didn't, they'd find someone else to write it for him.
Live Action TV
- The Battlestar Galactica finale reveals exactly what year it is and what's up with the "head people". Did we really need to know? (On the other hand, it did however leave the nature of Kara Thrace up to viewer interpretation.)
- Doctor Who:
- Robert Holmes was responsible for some of these back in the Classic days:
- The implied explanation for why the Second Doctor and Jamie look visibly older in "The Three Doctors", "The Five Doctors" and "The Two Doctors", resulting in the events Fan Nicknamed "Season 6B", is still fairly controversial. The theory states that the reason the Doctor can't control the TARDIS is because the Time Lords had been piloting it for him without his knowledge, and after his capture at the end of "The War Games", when the Time Lords appear to alter his appearence and exile him to Earth, he was actually used as a Boxed Crook agent by the Time Lords for centuries until the sentence was carried out, during which he persuaded the Time Lords to let him have his beloved companion Jamie back. The BBC has pretty much absorbed this into canon on account of 'making sense' and there are several books set during these events, but many fans dislike it for diminishing the beautiful conclusion to the Second Doctor's story, being improbable based on what we actually see in "The War Games" and being rather unnecessarily cruel, forcing the Second Doctor to go through the pain of losing his companions again.
- The Time Lords were introduced as a Crystal Spires and Togas civilisation of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens who were 'cosmic Buddhists', believing in non-intervention except for occasional, inscrutable actions made from a point of omniscience and taken for the greater good (such as their use of both the Third and Fourth Doctors as Boxed Crooks). Robert Holmes felt this was boring Black and White Morality that didn't fit his own worldview, and, Watsonianly, didn't jive with a few throwaway lines made by the Fourth Doctor (like complaining the Time Lords didn't want to sully their "lily-white hands"), and RetConned them irreparably into a Deadly Decadent Court made up of ritual-obsessed old bureaucrats of average intelligence wearing silly hats and backstabbing each other while the poor starve. The fandom at the time was quite outraged, although the benefit of hindsight has made the decision (and the story) much more appreciated. Notably, neither Russell T Davies nor Mark Gatiss liked this conception of the Time Lords and what we see of them during RTD's tenure is a great deal more godly.
- The new series made several references to the "Shadow Proclamation", which was apparently some sort of law which nearly every alien species obeyed. Fans speculated on the origins and nature of the Proclamation. Near the end of Tennant's run as the Doctor, it was revealed that the Shadow Proclamation is "a posh term for Space Police". So apparently the Proclamation is not a law but an organization, or if it is a law then there is apparently an organization of the same name which enforces the law. This is a bit like being arrested by "The Constitution" or something.note It didn't go over very well with fans, and the Shadow Proclamation has barely been mentioned since the Reveal. Russell T. Davies stated the original idea for the Proclamation's appearance in "The Stolen Earth" was to include a large Star Wars prequel-style senate consisting of every single major known race in the galaxy, but going over the budget forced them to scale it down to what was essentially nothing more than a secretarial lobby.
- Davies also claimed that averting this trope was the reason the Last Great Time War was never shown onscreen, as they felt that no matter how spectacular they made it the war would always seem anticlimactic to at least some fans. Successor showrunner Steven Moffat, however, subverted this, with the Time War appearing and playing a major role in the 50th anniversary special "The Day of the Doctor". And since the show's budget had increased exponentially by this point, they were actually able to do it justice - although some fans were still outraged that it mostly focused on Daleks flying about and shooting lasers compared to the Cosmic Horror Story vibe hinted at by Davies's descriptions of the war.
- A lot of fans didn't like the conclusion to Series 4. It wasn't explained how Rose knew so much about the alternate timeline in "Turn Left", how she appeared on a screen in "Midnight", how Bad Wolf got spread onto the planet in "Turn Left", and the Doctor-Donna felt like another Deus ex Machina.
- Many fans objected to River's revelation that the characteristic TARDIS dematerialisation sound was the result of the Doctor leaving the handbrake on. Not only does this make the Doctor look like an idiot (although the idea he doesn't really know how to fly the TARDIS has been established for decades), but it fails to explain why other TARDISes make the same sound. Word of God is that River was probably just winding him up.
- Firefly: "The Shepherd's Tale" comic was dedicated to exploring the Mysterious Past of Shepherd Book, whose backstory was hinted at somewhat less-than-subtly but never revealed on the show itself. Now, it was pretty well-known that he'd been quite senior in the Alliance military or policenote , but the twist? He'd started out as a spy for the Browncoats, making him Good All Along... and Jossing the fanon that had him being a disillusioned former patriot. The fandom were, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit disappointed.
- Life on Mars and sequel series Ashes to Ashes had an ending planned from the start (avoiding the mistakes LOST made) but also left many parts of the mystery unresolved (or at least very understated) so that they could be solved by the fans. Notably, the co-creators have different interpretations.
- Lampshaded in Sherlock, where the writers knew some people would be disappointed by how Sherlock faked his death, so put in the following lines, and later had Anderson point out some flaws in the plan that the fans had pointed out.
Anderson: Not the way I'd have done it.
Sherlock: Oh, really?
Anderson: Nah, I'm not saying it's not clever, but...
Sherlock: *flatly* What?
Anderson: Bit... disappointed.
Sherlock: *sighs* Everyone's a critic.
- Later seasons of The X-Files had huge problems because of piling Myth Arc elements that were left unexplained or not addressed sufficiently, but one particular case was closed, and it was very anti-climactic. The fate of Samantha Mulder, Agent Fox Mulder's abducted little sister, was probably the biggest Red Herring of the series. Her abduction triggered Mulder's belief in the paranormal and motivated his career at the FBI and started the pattern of Guilt Complex. Mulder was tormented by her clones and doubles and statements that she's still alive. It was finally revealed that she had been abducted by the conspiracy who had collaborated with the aliens, horrible tests had been performed on her and then she had lived with the Cancer Man's family. So far so good — fans always suspected something like this. However, when she was 14, she was "saved" by fairies or angels that made her body disappear, meaning that her corpse will never be found, but Mulder did see her ghost.
- The fact that Bohrok are actually dead Av-Matoran, as it retroactively made the earlier story unsettling (Matoran fighting against creatures born out of their deceased relatives, often with battle machines built out of Bohrok parts) and was just creepy. The revelation also comes out of nowhere.
- The reason why Orde is male and the rest of his kind are female: his creators were sexist. Also controversial because allegedly Orde's gender was set in stone by a mere typo.
- Most fans seemed to have accepted Mata Nui's nature well enough, but his backstory and its timeline are more cases of a Broken Base, as from a logical and logistic standpoint, they make no sense, and also retroactively demystify most of the fantasy-aspects of the story in favor of very soft sci-fi.
- Red Hot Chili Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis is well known for his excuses as to why they won't play older material or songs from One Hot Minute live. He'll often blame John Frusciante, their large variety of hits, his ability to memorise the lyrics, or he'll say 'we tried it but it wasn't working', but the truth is, he calls the shots, despite the rest of the band and fans wanting to hear it. An example of this is the many teases Josh Klinghoffer would do, which were intended to be full songs, but Kiedis did not want them in the setlist.
- The official timeline of The Legend of Zelda series. One of the biggest fanon debates in video game history was explained in an official art book titled Hyrule Historia, confirming that the series had not two, but THREE parallel timelines (all of them originated in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time), which seemed like quite the Writer Cop Out instead of providing a much stronger explanation (despite Nintendo frequently claiming the timeline was documented since long before its reveal).
- This was one of the main criticisms of Condemned 2: Bloodshot; Doing in the Wizard didn't exactly help.
- Touhou actually runs on this: the game developer, ZUN, decided to leave most canon details vague and background/personalities open to detail, since he found that the openness to interpretation of the games is what attracted such a large fanbase. Even then, people throw out a lot of canon material, or disregard it completely, and, of course, fans will fight one another over interpretation.
- Likewise, one of the many reasons Star Control 3 is considered Fanon Discontinuity by many is because it answered all the major cosmic mysteries brought up in Star Control 2, in an infodump that takes four YouTube videos to cover. And most of the answers are the very definition of Fridge Logic.
- The Guardian's true nature revealed in Ultima IX was rather underwhelming (after several games and almost 10 years of build-up), as well as somewhat inconsistent with the previously established story.
- One of the main complaints of Tales of Vesperia was how some of the plot threads were either given haphazard resolutions or dropped entirely. Most however, such as Yuri's vigilante actions, were given decent resolutions.
- Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight set out to resolve the many questions surrounding Kane, but it's agreed by most of the fanbase that it simply created more questions.
- For some fans Metal Gear Solid 4 was a huge case of this. Hideo Kojima actually wanted to leave MGS2 open-ended, but mass outrage and death threats from the fanbase forced him to develop 4.
- The ending of Mass Effect 3 caused uproar among fans, who started not just a petition, but raised $80,000 in only a few days for charity to get Bioware to change it. Much of this was caused by a lack of explanation of the events of the ending, but many disliked the explanation for the existence of the reapers. Which is that they are synthetics created to destroy organics ...so that they cannot create synthetics that will destroy organics. That being said, the Reapers don't consider what they do to organics to be "destroying organic life." The fact that an early draft of the script containing What Could Have Been potentially a much more interesting explanation leaked months before the game's release didn't help. The Extended Cut DLC went some way to appeasing the fandom, by showing in more detail the consequences of whatever decision Shepard makes, as well as including new scenes to each ending so that they were no longer identical as before. It, along with the later Leviathan DLC, also revealed that the AI that created the Reapers was acting out a Zeroth Law Rebellion caused by flawed instructions from its creators, which made the explanation a bit more palatable.
- Fans of the "Striaton Trio are really the Shadow Triad" fanon were not happy when Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 jossed that theory, to the point where some fans insist that the Striaton triplets are just lying.
- The idea that worlds run on their own time axis, as confirmed in Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance], was not taken well by the fandom, due to the amount of plot holes created, such as making it impossible for Santa to deliver all those presents.
- One episode of Gargoyles had the mysterious character of Titania whisper something in Fox's ear - whatever it was, it caused the latter character to gasp in shock. Fans clambered for an answer, but Genre Savvy creator Greg Weisman has said on his blog that although he knows exactly what was said, he is reluctant to share it, considering the interest is so high that the answer will inevitably come as a disappointment.
- The Legend of Korra: The explanation that Amon's ability to take away bending was actually Bloodbending, for various reasons. (Game-breaker, makes no sense, less interesting than his fake explanation, etc.)
- The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes hinted in episode #35 that the Secretary of Defense, Dell Ruskspoiler , had an Evil Plan. It also revealed that the Winter Soldier, The Falcon, Red Hulk, and Dr. Leonard Samson assisted him. Fans theorized that they would assist the plan as Unwitting Pawns, who only want to serve America. When episode #46 delivered a throwaway line revealing that Red Skull just turned them Brainwashed and Crazy, those same fans exclaimed that their real reason for helping sounded cheaper than their theory.
- The makers of Ed, Edd n Eddy say this trope is why they never revealed what Edd was hiding under his hat.
- The reason why Transformers Animated didn't want to reveal the origins of the AllSpark.