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Meta Twist
Say you're into a particular author who likes giving each of their stories a special kind of Twist Ending. They likes using it so much it's practically a signature element for their works. For some, it's predictable and groanworthy, while others might like it. Imagine the surprise when, after finishing with the story, the twist isn't there. Much like an Empty Room Psych, the author willingly removes that twist from their latest work to throw avid fans (and the Genre Savvy who expected It Was His Sled) for a loop.

Maybe they realized that using the trope was becoming predictable or worse, a crutch, and ditched it. Or perhaps he plotted a perfectly good waste from before even starting their first work just to give fans a huge surprise. And of course, maybe they just wanted (horror of horrors) to surprise the audience in order to entertain them. It doesn't matter which it is, the net effect is the same: The plot twist for that story becomes the absence of an established twist. So, a Meta Twist.

For a moment, the Genre Savvy have become just as easy to surprise as the newbie. In fact, a newbie into the works/genre will be pleasantly surprised regardless. The avid fan will get the added bonus of not knowing what happens next. This can be a good way to keep the audience interested in their future stories.

Compare with The Untwist. Not His Sled is a Sub-Trope where the Meta Twist occurs in an Adaptation or a Reboot as opposed to a sequel or an otherwise unrelated franchise by the same creator.note 

This is an ending trope. Here there be spoilers! In fact, these spoilers are even more dangerous than the usual variety, since it's impossible to not spoil the twist ending usually utilized from the moment the name of the work or creator is stated. Proceed with caution.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: When it was revealed that Urobuchi Gen was working on the series, many fans immediately suspected that the show would be a lot darker than it at first seemed. And they were right... mostly. The ending, while still bittersweet, was much happier than he is normally known for. Also a possible subversion of Lying Creator - when he claimed he wanted to write a heartwarming anime, few believed him.
  • One Piece did this powerfully in the Marineford Arc. A tradition in One Piece, is that no one dies in the present. This had been taken to ridiculous extremes on multiple occasions, perhaps most notably when Pell sacrificed himself to carry a massive bomb into the sky where the explosion would only barely not reach the ground. It's not long before he's implied, then later confirmed to have somehow survived. Then in the Marineford Arc, a bunch of powers are all colliding, but Luffy's just there for his brother, Ace. They tease that he may not have enough time to save him, but due to an immense amount of luck, he makes it and rescues his brother (of course, no one dies, right?). However, Luffy has been severely taxed by the events leading up to the Marineford Arc, and collapses at the height of a dangerous battle (partially thanks to only surviving the worst poisons on the planet due to an immense will and extensive outside help, another example of death being avoided against all odds). His brother rushes to his defense to take the blow from Akainu, a man with lava powers. Ace has fire powers and can turn immaterial, so he'll be fine, right? Well, lava and fire are members of the same elemental family and since lava is much hotter he's able to directly injure even a man made of fire. Needless to say, he did not survive. The Meta Twist made this moment extremely powerful, making it a significant moment for the audience as well as the characters, while also symbolizing a major shift in the tone of the story. The Straw Hats were no longer just having fun adventures on the seas. They had drawn the attention of the biggest and most dangerous names in the world.

    Comic Books 

    Film 
  • David Lynch, once he got famous for making Mind Screw movies, then directed a completely straight story called The Straight Story.
  • M. Night Shyamalan is so famous for adding completely unexpected (but in a good way!) twists to his works that when The Happening lacked one, people were disappointed. Though that was far from the only reason people were disappointed in the movie.
  • The Brothers Bloom is about con-men, and it has become something of a cliche that any story about con-men is usually a con itself—the viewer waits for the twist to be revealed. The twist at the end of the movie is... there is no twist. The movie has played fair with the audience all along, and what you saw is what really happened. The feeling of the viewer's plot-twist-sense tingling was just paranoia.
  • In his debut movie House Of Games, David Mamet played the aforementioned trope that the events in a con man movie are revealed to be part of a massive con straight. But when he directed his second con man movie, The Spanish Prisoner, he must have realized that viewers were now expecting this kind of a Plot Twist. To counter that, the movie keeps constantly introducing new plot elements that may be innocent, or may (to a viewer expecting the twist) be part of a con. The result is that by the end of the movie, a sufficiently paranoid viewer can't be sure how large the actual con was, or who exactly was involved in it.
  • Scream: The guy that was really, really, ridiculously obviously the killer... was the killer! And actually another guy is also the killer! They screw it in even further by having him get fake stabbed to death at the start of act III.
  • Moon: The helper robot with the suspiciously soothing voice who knows more than he's letting on... only wants to help the protagonist, whom he sees as his only friend. The "metaness" is further reinforced because the film is visually heavily inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey, complete with Creepy Monotone AI.
  • Rear Window: Alfred Hitchcock is known for making movies with shocking twists, in which what appears to be going on turns out to have been something entirely different. Rear Window has the perfect setup for this kind of thing, as the main characters spend the movie speculating based on limited evidence... but it turns out that, yes, the main character's theory that his neighbor had murdered his wife was one hundred percent correct.
  • Though many viewers thought that Star Trek Into Darkness would reprise Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in the rebooted continuity, others took Spock's words in Star Trek (2009) to heart and thought that it would resolve in some other way. It was reprised alright, along with the rest of "The Spock Trilogy", but with significant differences, the most obvious being that Kirk and Spock were swapped, making Into Darkness fit both this Trope and Not His Sled, each with regard to a different movie.

    Literature 
  • Harry Potter:
    • The first five Harry Potter books follow a specific pattern: the people Harry suspects are never the actual bad guys. In Half-Blood Prince, Harry is actually right about who's responsible. (There's a slight twist, admittedly, but we don't find that out until Deathly Hallows.)
    • Half-Blood Prince also has another one: Up until then, the Defense Against Dark Arts teacher always had been a character newly introduced in the respective book. This turned out not to be the case in HBP. Even Harry and friends were surprised by this. There is a new teacher introduced, and everyone had been expecting him to take the DADA slot, but it turns out the new guy had actually been recruited to teach Potions, and Snape was finally given the position of DADA teacher. Also, in the first five books, the new DADA teacher was always unable to teach a second year. The reasons varied, but they always left the school at the end of their first year. The new DADA teacher from HBP was no longer teaching DADA in the next book, but in a shocking twist, this was actually because he had become headmaster instead.
  • Most of Dan Brown's work to date has involved the final villain of the story actually being a trusted ally in disguise, and the obvious villain just doing the dirty work for said person. So it was quite a surprise in The Lost Symbol when the obvious villain was the primary antagonist from start to finish.
  • In the opening chapters of Sarah Waters' The Night Watch, a main character thinks about her secret lover and why nobody can ever know about their relationship. As Waters' previous books centered on lesbians, it seems obvious where this is going - but the lover is actually a man (the forbidden love aspect is because he's married.)
  • Goosebumps is notorious for having a Mandatory Twist Ending in practically every book. In the few episodes where there effectively is no twist ending, we get this.
  • Harry Turtledove is well known for his Loads and Loads of Characters, to the point where most of his books start out with a filler scene for each one that only serves to remind you of the position each of the many viewpoint characters were in at the end of the last book. Except on the rare occasion that one of them dies in this section.

    Live Action TV 
  • 24:
    • By the third season finale, fans have come to expect some huge cliffhanger twist. Jack enters his car, there's a long silence as the viewer waits expectantly... and then Jack breaks down crying. Woah.
    • The deaths of David Palmer and Michelle Dessler in season 5 and Bill Buchanan in season 7 served as this, as they wound up happening at the beginning of an episode rather than the end which was usually the case whenever a major character was killed off.
  • LOST is well known for its use of flashbacks, a fact which was taken into account in the first episode of both seasons two and three, each of which began with what appeared to be a flashback but was revealed to be showing a previously unseen area of the island.
    • The most notable example is the season 3 finale, with what appears to be a typical flashback turns out to be a flashforward instead. This twist has since entered It Was His Sled territory as being one of Lost's most famous.
    • Season 5 has an interesting variation: by this point, most of the audience knows that the opening scene will be set on the Island, but this time the opening scene turns out to be set in the 1970s with Pierre Chang and then we see Daniel Faraday, so the audience has no idea if this is a flashback or flashforward. Indeed, it isn't until much, much later in the season that this scene is revisited.
    • And yet again in the season 6 opener, where what looks like a flashback to the crash diverges from the actual events, and we get our first flashsideways. However, the twist is not the plane's failure to crash, because the viewer was previously informed of the likely creation of a no-crash alternate timeline. Instead, the twist happens when we pan down to see the island submerged underwater. Ultimately, even this becomes a Meta Twist, taking advantage of the audience's new expectation that the show will play around with the flashback/forward gimmick. At the very end, it's revealed that the "flashsideways" are actually depicting the afterlife of all the characters, at some point in the future after they have all died, meaning that the "flashsideways" had actually all been flashforwards the whole time.
  • During the 2009 season of Home and Away, police officer Angelo Rosetta is investigating a people smuggling ring operating out of the bay, and confides in Charlie that he suspects Hugo, Martha's new boyfriend. In the season final, after several months of Angelo focusing on Hugo, it's revealed that, yes, he is involved.
  • Dr. House's catchphrases get twisted every now and then:
  • A suspect in The Closer was a junkie arrested while he was high, showed violent tenancies when he chucked a chair through a window, had blood on his clothes, and possessed the keys to a stolen car with a murdered girl in the trunk. Rarely is the guilty party quite so obvious. The episode was largely dedicated to convincing Brenda that it was probably exactly what it looked like.
  • An episode of Person of Interest saw Detective Carter concur that a murder occurred just as it appeared to. The suspect was found at the scene standing over the victim's body with a gun and made a full confession. Granted, the murder had nothing to do with The Machine or the episode's main story.
  • HBO helped pull this off in Game of Thrones. Who's the marketing of? Who's the obvious main character? Sean Bean, who's the biggest name and most recognizable actor. Fans of the book loved it because they fell for the Decoy Protagonist when reading it and from the sheer amount of reviews and youtube videos so did most of the television fans. In hindsight, of course, this cemented Bean's reputation as a Chronically Killed Actor. Joffrey's death took fans, especially non-book readers, by surprise by happening in only the second episode of the fourth season.
  • Firefly:
    • In the pilot episode, Kaylee is shot and treated by Simon, with Mal threatening to pitch Simon off the ship if she doesn't recover. And Joss Whedon is well known for being willing and eager to kill off characters, levity, and anything resembling cuteness with extreme prejudice. So, of course, Mal walks in on Simon and declares simply that she didn't make it — and is lying through his teeth because he thinks it's funny (as does the rest of the crew).
    • The finale "Objects in Space" partially answers the question "just how great are River's mental powers?" River announces that she has "become" the ship, but she's really just broadcasting from Early's ship. So the answer is "not that great".
  • In Doctor Who, Steven Moffat is regarding as something of a master of the shocking twist. So when River Song was announced to have killed "a good man, the best [she'd] ever known" it was thought it was just too obvious for it to be the Doctor. After all, it was the first name which came to everyone's mind the second it was suggested. It just couldn't be true, right? In fact, entire sections of the fandom (across more than one discussion group) dissected the idea. They argued that River Song, knowing and often mentioning the Doctor's flaws, would never call him the best man she'd ever known. They argued that this Doctor had even said why he wasn't truly a good man because "good men don't need rules". Meanwhile, Rory (who doesn't need rules) was repeatedly stated to be a good man throughout the series. He showed a habit of dying several times (almost as though the universe were trying to make him...). When he was revealed out to be River's father in "A Good Man Goes To War" it seemed guaranteed (and many fans were sitting back quite content with themselves and saying "I told you so"). After all, who would a daughter be more likely to consider the best man she'd ever known than her father? And then it was the Doctor after all.
  • The X-Files episode "End Game" had what was technically a twist, but might have been intended as a meta twist. This episode and the preceding episode "Colony" concerned alien clones and the apparent return of Samantha Mulder, so to have the woman claiming to be Samantha turn out to be clone seemed too obvious. On the other hand, had she turned out to actually be Samantha it would have been a strange card to play at that point when the show was virtually guaranteed a third season.
  • In Siberia, Carolina and Victoria claim they saw a tiger after deciding to form an alliance and try to undermine the others. It turns out there really is a tiger. Or there was. The show was too new for this non-twist to have subverted any established conventions, but as half of this show's tropes are on loan from Survivor...
  • In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., of course the guy played by Brad Dourif is the Big Bad, right? Not this time.
  • The cases on Cold Case are usually elaborate puzzles and webs of lies involving several people, each of whom has a more or less believable reason to want the victim dead, so it's the ones where the killer is obvious from the beginning that are the surprising ones, as the puzzle is therefore something else. Examples have included...
    • "The Runner," the case of a murdered cop who was recorded screaming "Runner! Runner!" before his death. Once the police discover "Runner" was the street name of an Evil Former Friend of the cop it becomes clear who did it, but he's Genre Savvy enough to elude the cops at every turn, at least until they find out there was another witness. And then they have to find her.
    • "Hubris:" The killer had been correctly identified when the case was still hot, but the police were unable to prove it. The suspect has been hounded by the victim's family ever since, and in hopes of getting them off his back he asks for the case to be reopened himself, as in the interim he'd taken the liberty of framing someone.
    • "Creatures of the Night:" The killer is already in prison in another state, but thanks to a deal he took will soon be eligible for parole. After learning he'd spent time in Philadelphia, the Philly PD is forced to hunt for a victim they're not even sure exists in hopes of keeping him locked up.
    • "Saving Patrick Bubley:" Everyone knows that a vicious street gang is responsible for the deaths of four brothers. However, due to either fear of the gang or hatred of the police, no witnesses are willing to come forward, meaning all the cops "officially" have is a hunch.
    • "One Night" and "The Road:" The killer is ID'd before the first commercial break, but during interrogation it's discovered there's a still-alive victim stashed somewhere. Cue a battle of wits between the cops and the killer to try to find them before it's too late.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • At Wrestlemania 27, Edge and Christian headed into Edge's title match vs Alberto Del Rio with a series of tense promos that caused most to assume that Christian's Chronic Backstabbing Disorder would rear its head again and cause him to screw over Edge during the match. The match itself never even teased the possibility, leading to a clean win for Edge, with the two of them leaving the stage together. In a way, it was quite fortunate, as due to a medical condition Edge retired legitimately before he could wrestle another match. Instead of going out being screwed by the other half of the Edge-and-Christian Those Two Guys vibe, he retired as the champion with his best friend still in his corner.

    Video Games 
  • Brave Fencer Musashi had action figures of enemies and bosses you could purchase, often before actually facing them, which had actions and sometimes even voices that displayed their attacks. Of course there's an action figure of Colonel Capricciola with all of his attacks which never get seen in-game since he's The Unfought and actually helping you.
  • The first two Uncharted games had the twist of there being supernatural monsters (zombies and Yeti, respectively) involved in the events. The third game, Drake's Deception, has its supernatural enemy, the Djinn (Arab fire demons), turn out to be just an hallucination.
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney usually follows the Good Lawyers, Good Clients trope, so the one case in the series where Phoenix's client actually is guilty comes as a massive shock. Many consider it one of the best cases in the series.
    • In the first case of every game (which serves as a tutorial), the culprit is inevitably the witness brought in, since the first case takes place in one day and there's no investigation period to establish multiple suspects. Thus, in the first case of Apollo Justice, when the witness is revealed to have been lying about the events of the murder and hiding a bold personality with a shy demeanor, players would suspect she was the culprit. Instead, the real killer was Apollo's mild-mannered mentor and boss, Kristoph Gavin.
  • Mega Man X:
    • Sigma has always been the Big Bad and Final Boss in every game... except for one where there was someone else controlling Sigma all along (Mega Man X8) and a Gaiden Game where where he doesn't make an appearance (Mega Man X: Command Mission.)
    • Mega Man X through X4 had minor characters as the intro level bossnote  that has no bearing whatsoever on the plot. Then Mega Man X5 changes it up by throwing Sigma himself at you as the intro boss in a battle that kick-starts the entire plot of the game.
  • In a sort of inverse example from the above Mega Man X example, Sonic the Hedgehog's Dr. Eggman picked up a bad habit of getting upstaged by the game's real Big Bad around the Sonic Adventure-era games. It initially looks like this is going to be the case in Sonic Generations, until it's revealed that Eggman is the real Big Bad and Final Boss after all. Not just Eggman, in fact, but Eggman teaming up with himself from the Genesis-era games. Sonic Colors also completely lacks the upstaging part altogether by having Eggman be the Big Bad from beginning to end, and then when he's upstaged for real in Sonic Lost World he wrestles his Big Bad status back from the game's villains at the very end for one more Final Boss fight.
  • There is a Flash version of Portal on places like Kongregate. The final level is simply an open room, with a cake on a pedestal. When you move over to the cake... you pick it up, and can leave the room safely, completing the game, in complete defiance of expectation from anyone who's ever played Portal itself.
  • Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time. After seeing the ninja, western bandit, and caveman ancestors, who didn't expect Sly's medieval ancestor to be a Robin Hood Expy? Turns out he's a hilariously hammy noble knight, and Sly becomes the Robin Hood expy via a costume that lets him shoot arrows.
  • Used in Metroid: Fusion to score a cheap shot on Samus. Everyone playing this the first time ran right in and tried to grab the powerup from the Chozo statue in Sector 1, only to be damaged by it and have the statue turn into a Core-X.
  • In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, the first game of Zero Escape, a huge plot twist was that June- the stereotypically kind, na´ve love interest- was really the Deadly Game's amoral mastermind, Zero, and the series' Big Bad. (That was also, for reasons that make sense in context, confirmation that magical abilities did exist in the ZE universe, and formed the plot's backbone.) This drastically altered many facets of the story, and made June's characterization far deeper than it had been before. So when the second game's cast page was released, and it described Luna as kind and na´ve, fans decided that this must mean Luna was an expy of Akane and secretly a two-faced murderer who couldn't be trusted. As it turned out, however, they were wrong- Luna really is a compassionate optimist who wants the best for everyone. She has her own...issues, like being a robot, but she's one of the most solidly good characters in Zero Escape. So that was a surprise in itself.
  • The first Dangan Ronpa quickly brings up the existence of a famous Serial Killer named Genocider Syo, who eventually turns out to be one of the students trapped in the school. Super Dangan Ronpa 2 then does the same set-up with a different Serial Killer. The killer of that trial then reveals herself to be that Serial Killer, only for everyone to find out soon after that she was faking it as part of a ruse to get everyone to quickly vote for her as the culprit before they could find out everything that happened around the time the murder took place.
  • In The Legend of Zelda, it's frequent to have to explore three dungeons to gather an initial set of Plot Coupon items before something unexpected occurs and the Master Sword has to be collected (or, conversely, the Master Sword is collected and then the twist occurs). So it was very shocking for gamers to discover that the location of the third quest item from The Wind Waker is utterly destroyed and the holder of the item went elsewhere for safety. The item is gotten after a series of events in the overworld, rather than the completion of a dungeon. The real third dungeon, Tower of the Gods, is found after making use of the three quest items and is completed to find the Master Sword. And the traditional unexpected twist occurs after completion of the fourth dungeon (Forsaken Fortress).
  • In PokÚmon Black and White, many aspects of the series' standard plot formula are subverted: The Villainous Team plot is not solved prior to the 8th badge and the Champion is actually defeated by the Dragon-in-Chief before you reach him. Said Dragon becomes the (next-to) Final Boss, relegating the Champion to the post of Bonus Boss. On the other hand, the Gym Leaders are not resting on their laurels either and take on several of the Evil Team's admins, allowing you to bypass them.note 

    Web Original 
  • Discussed in Zero Punctuation: Yahtzee feels that the "shocking" moment in the Modern Warfare games has become so token that by the end of the third game, it'd be more shocking if there wasn't one.

    Western Animation 
  • South Park fans know that Cartman is always, always doing good deeds for his own twisted reasons, which may range from Poke the Poodle to all-out Moral Event Horizon in scope. No matter how good he seems, fans and the characters can bet that he's really being manipulative. This makes his subplot in "Major Boobage" something of a surprise, when he really does take in all the town's cats (which had been recently outlawed) simply because he's a cat lover and felt sorry for them.
  • Scooby-Doo is well known for its Scooby-Doo Hoax, though sometimes (usually in the films), the monster they are chasing is, in fact, a monster, and not a guy in a costume.
  • In-Universe example: Homer Simpson is not a smart man, nor one known for having any kind of scientific prowess or a clear enough sense of the world to understand how things might play out when, say, a comet is bearing down upon Springfield and threatening to wipe the town off the face of the earth. So in "Bart's Comet", when Homer predicts that the nuclear pollution from the power plant would burn the comet down to a small rock no larger than a chihuahua's head, nobody (in universe, or out) takes him seriously. And then that's exactly what happens. Bart, Lisa and Homer himself are terrified by this.
  • The first two major villains of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic are dispatched with the Elements of Harmony and of course the ponies try to use them to stop Queen Chrysalis as well. Turns out she anticipated it and stationed about umpteen-thousand changelings in the room to capture them. The elements never actually get used; instead Shining Armor and Princess Cadance nuke the changelings with the Power of Love.

Meaningless Villain VictoryTwist EndingNested Story Reveal
Meta CastingMeta-ConceptsMetagame
Meta GuyMetafiction Demanded This IndexMetafiction
Meat-O-VisionExample as a ThesisMilholland Relationship Moment

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