If the fans decide that the writing team will never resolve its plots, then they will probably stop following the work.
It's said that no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the viewing public, but sometimes a show comes along that promises stories so complex and subtle that they'll make War and Peace look like "Frog and Toad Are Friends". If it's done right, then this is catnip to a certain sector of the viewing public, who will often give such a show a surprisingly long time to set up its plot arcs before getting antsy for a resolution. The catch for the creator is that, the longer an arc runs and the more complicated it gets, the more awesome its payoff must be for it to feel satisfying to the fans. It's much easier for a writer to keep kicking the can — piling mysteries on top of mysteries — rather than finish storylines. This trope was invoked in the British TV serial The Singing Detective, in which mystery novelist Philip Marlowe asserts that fiction, like life, should be "all clues and no solutions."
That said, most audiences are savvy enough to recognize a framing device when they see one. Plots resting on a single Driving Question (Where is the Sunflower Samurai? Who the hell is Mrs. Mosby?) are allowed some leeway; otherwise, the production team would be out of work and the story would end. The Chris Carter Effect happens when a work is wholly focused on twists, not building up to a satisfactory resolution — or if the plotting becomes so bloated that there can no longer be a satisfactory resolution (see Ending Aversion). Another contributing effect could be the unsatisfactory resolution of long running side-plots. At this point, even the most ardent fans will start to feel jerked around, or at the very least channel flip to a wrestling match.
Sometimes, the lack of a resolution is not the writers' fault: the network might have pulled the plug early or compromised the original vision by having it focus on more merchandisable elements or to keep adding to or expanding on the author's intended story.
See also Kudzu Plot and Commitment Anxiety. If fans are suspicious that such a show will even survive to tell its story and don't bother tuning in, that's The Firefly Effect.
Named forChris Carter, creator of The X-Files (Not the football player turned HBO analyst or the Oakland Athletics first baseman), which some believe to be the godfather of this trope.
Contrast Fan-Disliked Explanation.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
The Pokémon anime seems to have no real set goals for the characters in mind despite having heavy references to Pokemon mastery and the like. None of the characters have truly achieved any of their goals as of yet. Thus, many fans have given up on ever seeing any of the characters' stories really wrapped up at any point in the foreseeable future... of course, seeing as the target demographic is eight to twelve years old, it also doesn't seem to have mattered all that much, as most fans outgrow it (and are replaced by younger fans) before this trope becomes much of an issue.
Dragon Ball: Subverted. Although the manga's creator, Akira Toriyama, has stated several times that he was just making stuff up as he wrote each chapter, he actually managed quite brilliantly to solve most of them as time went on instead of leaving them hanging. Heck, even the fact that Goku had a tail was explained, and Oolong even suggested the theory that Goku was an alien a long time before Toriyama decided to make it so, giving the story unintentional foreshadowing.
...until the Bourbon arc goes out of its slow start and then the series features at least a bit of plot advancement in every single case. It is still debatable whether the plot is really advancing or not, but the reveals of the true identities of the newcomers, the gambit to make the Black Organization believe Sherry is finally dead for real, and Bourbon getting directly interested in Conan for his crime-solving ability and connections to the FBI, can certainly be called plot advancements.
Bleach is often accused of this. As of recently, though, it's begun wrapping up the plots and the major villain has been switched out twice now after being defeated. However, during the final arc, we were shown what happened to most of our missing Arrancar; Dondachakka and Harribel have been taken by the enemies who seem to consist of Quincies and enslaved Arrancar, and Pechse and Nel have returned to be assistants to replace Uryu (who's leaving the team temporarily because helping hollows goes against his code as a Quincy). As of this writing, Grimmjow has yet to appear, and we might just get a few answers for the Off-Screen Activity we got.
Episode 4 of Jinrui Wa Suitai Shimashita theoretically a satire/parody of modern manga business practices, but mostly ended up addressing this. When the characters find themselves needing to make a popular manga, the local mangaka explains that the way to make a bestselling manga is not to craft a consistent plot, but to keep stringing viewers along with constant cliffhangers, since they won't realize the plot holes until the end. However, once the audience catches on, the popularity of their manga drops like a stone.
The greatest entertainer is the greatest swindler!
Many of the plot elements related to the Spider-Totem introduced by J Michael Straczynski during his run on Spider-Man from 2001 to 2007 gave readers a lot of doubletalk and mystical mumbo-jumbo, but very little in the way of concrete resolution, like exactly why Peter had to "evolve", why one cosmic entity wanted to bring him back from the dead while another thought he should stay deceased, the mysterious entities that resurrected Mysterio and Miss Arrow and what they wanted with Peter, etc. None of this was ever really explained.
To be fair to Straczynski; he probably did have some exciting, interesting direction to take the series. He probably knew how he would end it. It's not exactly his fault that Joe Quesada decided to hit the Reset Button via the One More DayRetcon. That said, it is his fault he didn't take the time to ever flesh it out during the six years he was on the title, which is a marathon by today's standards.
Somewhat of an aversion, though; the Myth Arc might have drove readers up the wall, but most people agree that the truckloads of Character Development for Peter, Aunt May, Mary Jane and others, and the otherwise high quality of writing, still make most of JMS's run readable. Until, of course, they hit the reset button and flushed it all down the toilet. There's a reason that One More Day and Joe Q get most of the heat rather than JMS.
Spider-Man's "Clone Saga". Originally, the story was supposed to wrap up after a few months, after an already complicated narrative. However, due to the efforts of Marvel executives, the story was extended for another year, with plot twists being reversed constantly, and supposedly dead characters appearing, reappearing and then dying anticlimactically. The story finally limped to its conclusion with another plot twist that had almost nothing to do with most of the events that proceeded it (Norman Osborn was back). It should be noted that, when the saga started, it was Marvel's highest-selling group of books. The act of stretching it to the limit for so long caused sales to slump, and fans turned away in droves.
Robert Jordan's Doorstopper series The Wheel of Time spent so many books getting more and more complicated, that it seemed impossible for anyone to ever wrap everything up. Jordan himself stated that he would conclude the series with book 12 "whether it's 15,000 pages, Tor has to invent a new binding system, or it comes with its own library cart," since it was very unlikely that he could write a coherent thirteenth book. Robert Jordan's death shortly before finishing the last book sure isn't going to help matters. Brandon Sanderson, the writer tapped to finish the series in Jordan's stead, eventually deciding that resolving every arc properly would take no less than three books, though he's approaching the project as if he's writing one book.
That said, Robert Jordan made it quite clear that he never intended on resolving every plot point, as he didn't want his universe to feel like it just ended abruptly at the end of the last book. There is much fan speculation on which plot points would be intentionally left dangling.
Daniel "Lemony Snicket" Handler deliberately exploited this. The theme at the end of A Series of Unfortunate Events is that not every mystery could easily be solved, not every question could easily be answered, and there are many mysteries in the world that simply will never get solved. Handler claims this was his intent from book one. Thus the final book "The End" is anything but, though it does answer the series most important question: that Beatrice was the Baudelaire's mother.
Remnants by K.A. Applegate. They spent the first ten or so books setting up a bunch of mysteries...and then promptly switch to basically a new plot for the last few books, with none of the questions answered. Granted, the plotline at the end was actually pretty good...but it's like the first ten books were wasted leading nowhere.
Everworld, by the same author as Remnants, is just as bad. Each successive book begins an entirely new plot and never goes back to answer any of the questions raised along the plot. The series doesn't even have a concluding novel; the twelfth ends with the two primary antagonists (Ka Anor and theSennites) still alive and well after Senna herself gets killed off suddenly, and does nothing to explain the myriad questions raised over the course of the series, such as the identity of the watcher in the void.
Lets go for the Trifecta. Animorphs does it too. While the main plot is technically resolved, it's still got Ending Aversion. Plus, the Ellimist/Crayak stuff is still on-going, some of the info in Megamorphs is never brought up again, some of the pre-finale stuff comes out of the blue. Oh, and the ending introduces a new arc. Plus, there's that group of 'friendly' Yeerks, Ax's desire to avenge his brother...
The Neverending Story intentionally invokes this trope by starting many more story arcs than it intends to finish. One by one, they are dropped off with "that is another story, and shall be told, another time". This is also the last line at the end of the book itself. Of course, given the name...
Also used as a plot device as Bastian is told by the Water of Life that AURYN will not permit him to leave Fantastica until he's finished all the stories that he started. Atreyu and Falcor agree to do this in his stead.
This is beginning to happen with George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. The series was supposed to be a trilogy, but has ballooned to at least seven books. The first three are very well written and gripping whereas the fourth is slower paced and focuses mostly on sideplots with hardly any of the series' main protagonists featuring. The massively delayed fifth gets things on track a little bit (No doubt due to fan favourites like Tyrion and Jon returning.) but it's still very slow and Martin doesn't even manage to fit in the planned climax of the book.
Some fans are no longer convinced that Martin even knows how the series is going to end due to this slowed pace, but in all fairness the meandering of the last two books are because of them being designed to fill in a five-year time skip that was eventually scrapped. It does seem from preview chapters that book 6 will be closer in pace to the original books.
Martin is aware of this fear to an extent. On several occasions he's mentioned that he does know the broad-strokes of the overall story's events and more importantly has known the ending from the outset. Actually getting there however became more complicated than he realised. He's also stated that there will be no more new POV characters in future books. And half-jokingly claims that he needs to start killing off more characters in The Winds of Winter.
Named for Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files. For the first half of the 1990s, the fans were convinced that Carter had plotted an elaborate and minutely thought-out web of deceit and lies for his FBI agents to unravel. Forests of Epileptic Trees sprouted around every new tantalizing hint revealed. No reference was too obscure for devoted X-Philes, who cheerfully threw themselves into history, folklore, myth, science, or any other branch of human knowledge that seemed like it might shed some light on the story. By mid-decade, though, the Myth Arc story had churned along for years without really answering any of the questions raised. It had, in fact, mutated into a dense Kudzu Plot, and fans began to suspect that there was no intricately plotted story - he'd just been making it all up as he went along. (Carter eventually confirmed this suspicion.) Fans were irritated by the resolutions to side plots that were long running, such as the fate of Mulder's sister turns out she was spirited away by the fairies!. This eventually went on into the finale which made promises of resolving the Myth Arc which not only fails to do so but also in the last ten minutes presents a teaser for an alien invasion set to occur in 2012 (which doesn't look like it'll be resolved at all).
Also by Chris Carter, Millennium is a good example of this. The show got increasingly bizarre and difficult to follow as it went on, and the end of the third season (the last one filmed, and for good reason) provided no closure at all. Each season had a different show runner(s), each with a very different idea of what the show should be (Are Frank Black's flashes simply a visualization of his deductive skills or psychic visions? What is the Millennium group's agenda?) and no one from above willing to set boundaries. After the cancellation, the whole thing was put into the laps of The X-Files team. This resulted in a Fully Absorbed Finale for Millennium within The X-Files-verse that also failed to resolve anything.
LOST. At any given time, exactly half of its fanbase will believe that the show's creators are making the next Twin Peaks and have no idea what endgame they desire, while the other half will argue that the threads are finally coming together, and a satisfactory revelation is all but guaranteed. In the end, it's a matter of opinion how it all turned out. The most diplomatic way to phrase it would be to say that there were two groups of fans: those who thought it was about the characters and those who thought it was about the plot/mythology. The former seem to have generally been pleased while the latter are generally very upset and firm believers that this trope was in effect. Generally, science fiction can have an open ending as long as the fates of the most interesting characters are resolved. Unfortunately, on LOST, a large chunk thought the island was the most interesting character.
One reviewer basically described the end as the result of the writers admitting that they could not resolve both the characters and the plot—so they opted to resolve what they could, in an effort to minimize damage and please some of the fans. If this trope hadn't been in play, both groups ought to have been pleased.
In a Saturday Night Live episode, Amy Poehler said "ABC announced this week that it has renewed Lost for a fourth season. Said the show's writers, 'Oh Crap.'"
The Guardian's guide magazine once had a feature on several theories as to what was going on in LOST: it's all a dream (Word Of God denies this), Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory (Ditto, and basically disproven by the season 3 finale), it's an elaborate version of The Truman Show etc., etc., before reaching the final theory: "They're just making it up as they go along."
The actual mythology was planned out by Carlton Cuse when he joined the show midway into the first season, according to him, and recent statements have revealed long-term planning... some of which never took off, like Libby's backstory (thanks to the writer's strike) and Eko's major, four season long storyline (the actor asked to leave the show).
What's more, Cuse and Damon Lindelof (the two showrunners) also had to figure out what the existing mythology elements meant, things like the Monsters that were written into the pilot by a guy who would have next to no involvement in the rest of the series and just wanted to give the show a Forbidden Planet vibe.
David Fury (writer and co-executive producer) wrote a number of important episodes concerning mythology ("The Numbers") and establishing the initial flashbacks of major characters like Locke ("Walkabout"), Sayid ("Solitary"), and Hurley ("The Numbers" again). He has stated in interviews that he had ideas of where to take those aspects of Lost's mythology after the first season. However, as yet another creative influence that left the show after the first season, these ideas never materialized, making Fury's absence one of many factors that contributed to the mileage variance of the following seasons, as Cuse and Lindelof tried to figure out where to take the existing elements of the show while still piling on new mysteries in every episode.
In the fifth season finale: after leading the Others to the statue where Jacob lives, Richard suddenly claims that only Locke (the leader) can speak to Jacob when Locke asks if both he and Ben can go inside. Locke angrily accuses Richard of simply making things up as he goes along. This is likely a reference to one of Lost's most famous criticisms in popular culture: the idea that (especially during earlier seasons) the writers had no long-term game plan and made things up with no intention of resolving them.
The show can be divided into three sections: the first season, which was mostly a case of The Chris Carter Effect; the second and third seasons, where the writers had the outline of a series-long Myth Arc but also had to do a lot of padding at the request of ABC, who didn't want their ratings darling to go away; and the fourth, fifth and sixth seasons, which came after the writers were given a specific number of episodes in which to wrap up the show and subsequently became a much tighter, more Babylon 5-esque in its long-term storytelling. Which unfortunately didn't resolve or even mention a number of once-excruciatingly-intriguing mysteries from the first couple seasons, making the Chris Carter effect more evident than ever.
Funnily enough, a promo from the show's last season is scored with the tunnel song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. You know, where Wonka gets more and more freaked out because he has no idea where he's going?
The season six DVD has an epilogue on it which explains some of the left-over mysteries like the Hurley Bird. Ben even lampshades the issue of unexplained questions by telling the Dharma employees that even though they may have a lot of questions, they'll only get two questions answered between them. And don't get started on the fact that this short was a DVD-only exclusive...
In general, the works of J. J. Abrams often have this problem. Cracked put it best: "A creative visionary and genius... for approximately two seasons, after which point he cracks, panics and starts rambling on about magic instead of writing a coherent plotline." To a certain degree, even Felicity fell prey to this, as did Alias. Luckily it seems that Fringe is averting this trope hard with the "Parallel Universe"-arc that's been the series' main plot thread since the end of season 1 being given a very emotional bitttersweet ending towards the end of Season 4, which also answered the mystery of the Observers, they're the human race from the future. Season 5 introduced a new storyline in the form of the Observer occupation of present day Earth which is moving at a pretty fast pace, answering questions as it drops more (but less than it answered). It's been doing fine so far and it might help that a fair number of the episodes are already borderline ramblings about magic.
Word Of God is that they do have an ending and a way to get there, plotted over several seasons. However, said ending can be adjusted and deployed on short notice in case they don't get as many seasons as they planned for, this is obvious given the sheer pacing of Season 5's (said to be the last season) storyline.
Demonstrated failure of Twin Peaks. But really, what did they expect from David Lynch? Writer and committed Lynch fan David Foster Wallace opined in an essay that Season 2 was some of the best television he'd ever watched, in that it was some of the worst television he'd ever watched. If you watch it all in a row, it's pretty clear that it's one long nervous breakdown on the part of Lynch as he never intended the mystery of Laura Palmer's murder to be solved, with the series was intended to be more of an exploration of the characters. Executive Meddling forced him to solve the mystery by the end of Season 1, which left him with literally no idea where to go from there and hence he opted to work on other projects.
As a result, Lynch was hardly involved with Season 2 — he didn't write or direct any of the next 14 episodes and returned only to direct the finale. There's a consensus among Twin Peaks fans that the episodes directed by Lynch are the best of the series.
Of course, this often leads people to ask "What the hell were you thinking having the main plot be the police investigating a murder that you never intended to resolve while instead focusing on all the different characters? You can't have all this focus on the characters and not eventually have it revealed that someone did or did not do the deed."
Basically, it seems to be an inversion of this trope: a show's downfall caused by the resolution of a plot thread that was never intended to be solved. Twin Peaks had a Kudzu Plot driven by a Driving Question that was mistaken by ABC executives to be this, and the forced closing of plotlines lead to Seasonal Rot and cancellation.
At least part of the problem is that Patrick McGoohan conceived it as a 6-episode miniseries...then Executive Meddling caused it to be inflated to 17 episodes, almost literally at the last minute. The insanity of the finale is attributed to McGoohan's exhaustion/burnout at the end of the production cycle, although he stated that the utter rage and confusion that the finale inspired was partly intentional.
Still, there's a big difference between a work which is largely symbolic and one which is obtuse for its own sake; there's also a big difference between a show that expects you to work it out for yourself and one with no actual answers. Which of these applies to The Prisoner depends on 1) whether you choose to believe the show creators, 2) you can 'correctly' interpret the symbolism. McGoohan didn't want to spell out the messages for the audience, which was consistent with one of the show's messages — namely, an individual's personal responsibility to work things out for themselves.
The biggest "problem" with the show is that it isn't about a spy who retires and is taken prisoner, as that's merely the device McGoohan chose to explore the topics he wanted to explore. So for what he wanted to do, he accomplished it; the spy story...notsomuch.
As an alternate explanation: one generally doesn't critique poetry based on its narrative structure. Conversely, David Lynch often doesn't have a particular message and has said that there either is no "official" interpretation, or that your personal interpretation is what's important. Lynch uses abstraction for its own sake, because he finds it interesting and beautiful. All of this is very frustrating to someone who prefers logic and literal meanings, to whom we say (sympathetically)... don't read poetry.
Strictly speaking, The Pretender never resolved any of its over-arching plots. The show creators joked that a detailed master plan for the narrative was hidden "inside the pickle jar" and buried in their backyard, but in actuality the writing sessions were becoming increasingly devoted to impromptu games of poker among the staff. This may explain why, though the exact circumstances and reason for series protagonist Jarod's abduction as a child remained unclear, nearly every character in the show was revealed to have uncertain parentage or a long-lost relative. Following the unintentional finale, two successive Made For TV Movies, both of which ended with Cliff Hangers, introduced more questions than answers.
This was pretty much what got The 4400 canceled. The long-awaited elaboration of the fabled 'Future People' was half-answered very late in the show, but then about twice as many new questions cropped up. The cancellation then abruptly cut off any hope of the rest of it being resolved. Damn shame, really.
Heroes's first season was hailed as great, tightly-plotted and well-written storytelling, with a clear goal in mind. Its second and third seasons, though, were prime examples of the Chris Carter effect in action — the writing team flailing around, directionless, at war with its own continuity — and it only started to re-establish its arc as of Volume 4. Unfortunately, the writers had envisioned each "volume" to be about a different set of heroes with a different set of problems to solve, but fans just wanted more cheerleader beheadings.
In their defense in regards to season two, they had planned a long, elaborate 2-volume (i.e. season-long) arc in which all the seemingly-loose plot threads would have come together. In the original ending of volume two, Peter wouldn't have caught the virus vial, and it would have been let loose in Odessa, causing the pandemic seen in Out of Time. Volume Three would have been about the pandemic. Claire's blood's healing properties were going to be used to heal virus victims, and resident Scrappy Maya would have used her powers to absorb the virus and sacrifice herself to save the world. Unfortunately, the writer's strike cut the season in half, and instead of waiting an undetermined amount of time to resolve plots new viewers wouldn't be up to date on, they chose to wrap up the season and abandon all planned story arcs. This explains why the plot seems muddled and full of red herrings; they quite literally aborted entire character arcs, causing most of the established developments in season 2 to become redundant.
It probably didn't help that they had a major writer and show runner change-up after the first season
Burn Notice based itself on there being some sort of big Government Conspiracy that was behind Michael getting fired from the CIA. Each season does manage to shake up the Myth Arc, it goes from everything being a complete mystery to him having a love/hate relationship with the organization that burned and eventually gathering evidence to bring to the CIA that they actually exist and work with them to start dismantling it. The issue fans have with the status quo is built on four parts:
The show's deliberately set and filmed in Miami (trying to avoid California Doubling) and thus Michael can't do too much globetrotting,
Each episode is consistently split in half between an episodic story and a Myth Arc story that makes for a rather detached A and B story,
The episodic story often becomes more about the accent Michael has to use,
...And even the myth arc story is organized as Michael following a trail of bread crumbs that leads him to the big twist of the season.
Still, Seasons 5-6 managed to really change up the We Help The Helpless monotone of the episodic story and managed to merge both the myth arc and episodic plots as working together.
Desperate Housewives features a single ongoing mystery for every season which is solved in the season finale. There's widespread suspicion among the fanbase that the solution to season four's mystery was changed halfway through after Marc Cherry decided he wanted to keep Dana Delany (one of his favorite actresses and the original choice for regular character Bree) on the show.
The rebooted Battlestar Galactica was accused of this on several occasions — the effect can be traced back as far as Season 3, when the decision to largely abandon the show's carefully crafted Myth Arc in favor of a series of standalone episodes almost resulted in its cancellation (and eventual pushback from the producers to get the plot back on track). Still, the showrunners were open about the fact that they were mostly making things up as they went along. A series of open questions and mysteries were raised over the length of the show, and ended with handwaving and the revelation that God was responsible for many of the mysteries, and they may have been being literal in this. As a result of the series bible's publication after the show finished airing, fans now know that none of the plot points introduced in Season 3, such as the Final Five and Starbuck's death/resurrection, were things the producers were aware of at all during the first two seasons — they'd exhausted their stockpile of potential plotlines.
The "Final Five Cylons" debacle, which dominated the show since Season 3 began. Realizing that the gradual reveal of the promised "Twelve Cylon models" was boring, the writers broke their own established rules by making major recurring characters Cylons who logically couldn't be. One of them was married and had fathered a child; the cardinal rule about Cylons until then was that they're sterile. They handwaved it off by ham-fistedly retconning that his wife had an affair (after they dropped a bridge on her). To make it worse, they had already revealed that one of the Cylons was "Model Number Eight", and 8 + 5 = 13, not 12. They had to invent a backstory that there used to be a Number Seven model, but he got killed. The BSG writers didn't just apply Magic A Is Magic A to their work in the end; they fell back onto "divine intervention" to explain plot twists which, if you analyzed them objectively, didn't add up.
While the original series was sometimes viewed negatively by fans of the new show, most of the best-loved plot elements were re-imagined versions of original series episodes and plotlines. The show started meandering and falling apart precisely when the writers ran out of material and had to begin coming up with a metaplot of their own.
Given where they eventually went with the series, it is surprising that one of only well-remembered plots from the original they *didn't* re-imagine is the one where Satan shows up in person to tempt the fleet.
The "Death of Starbuck" ruse: in the first two seasons, the writers often boasted that they respected the intelligence of their audience and didn't walk them through plot points. At the end of Season 3, with ratings dropping and the writers running out of ideas, they pretended to kill off Starbuck. Even in real life, the writers and cast were ordered to act like Katie Sackhoff left the show. The episode she was killed in bizarrely and obviously set up new plot points for her. She wasn't randomly shot or captured; she randomly flew into a storm due to a newly revealed religious plotline. It was confusing even then. Starbuck's "dramatic surprise return" was therefore predictable; writers who once said that they respected the audience's intelligence were now stooping to comic book deaths, though they insisted that this was a stroke of genius. All of this was supposedly related to Starbuck's "destiny", but they never fully explained (even in the finale) why Starbuck had to die and literally be resurrected by the Gods to lead the Fleet to Earth.
Made worse by the fact that the intro crawl text assures viewers that the Cylons "have a plan" which explains their seemingly bizarre and illogical actions. Eventually, the whole thing is hand-waved when a character says "plans change". After the show was canned, a subsequent work called "The Plan" finally revealed the plan, though YMMV as to whether it really was worth it.
The pilot of Star Trek: Enterprise left the audience wondering who the shadowy individual directing new bad guys the Suliban was. At the end of the series, they're still wondering and apparently no-one behind the scenes gave it much thought either. Instead of answering the questions the Temporal Cold War threw up or explaining characters' motivations, the show instead introduced more and more factions, their motives and goals just as nebulous as the ones that were already there. When a new showrunner took over for the beginning of Season 4, he introduced yet another new faction who were apparently the worst of the lot, blew them up and announced that the war was over and indeed had never happened (even though several events that were a direct result of the war clearly still had). Uh-huh?
Carnivŕle on HBO created this in one scene. Early in the show, one of the characters has a vision of Ben and Sofie kissing as a nuclear warhead detonates in the background. Since the show took some pains to ground itself in the real timeline, this would put the vision in 1945. But the show was set in 1935, and the pace of the plot meant that some fans immediately concluded that it'd never pay off. They were right.
Knauf had planned a five-year time skip between Seasons 2 and 3, which would have brought the show to 1940, with further seasons to bridge the rest of the gap between then and the Trinity test, but then the show got canned.
The 1980s War of the Worlds series was based on the idea of humans discovering that the aliens from the original 1953 invasion had survived and were now resistant to radiation. Season 1, while obviously lacking in special effects, built up a number of story arcs that were intended to be long-term: the humans working to discover the identities of the aliens and out them to the world, allies which made guest appearances (and then promised to come back in the future), an alien "invasion force" that was set to arrive in just a couple of years, etc. With Season 2 (and an entirely new production team), all the carefully constructed work that went into Season 1 was tossed out the window. Half the characters were killed (including the villains of Season 1), several angles were simply forgotten about and the theme of the show even changed. When fans tuned out (which caused the series to end its run prematurely), several arcs from Season 1 were left unresolved and there were more questions than answers.
This is probably the reason the remake of Bionic Woman only lasted a season. The plot didn't last that long. More likely, it was canceled due to the writer's strike. The series only had eight episodes, which isn't enough time to survive a hiatus.
It probably would've been canned anyway, though, since the show started near the top of the NBC ratings stack and sunk to near the bottom in the space of those eight episodes. And it certainly had its fair share of creative issues, since there were three showrunners in those eight episodes (including one who was hired days before the strike and never got to write an episode), none of whom really seemed to grasp the storyline or characters.
Stargate Universe went this way, continuing the same mistakes as its predecessor series. Rather than simply go the episodic or mini-arc route, the producers introduced a half-dozen secret soap opera storylines at once, storylines that sometimes overshadow the genuinely dramatic plotlines on the show. This kind of thing doomed Atlantis to death after five seasons (admittedly only half as long as its predecessor, but some would think that was a decent run for a series), and Universe didn't last too long either.
It's also very bizarre to state that Universe made the same mistakes Atlantis did given that it was very similar in theme and structure to its predecessor series while Universe was a massive departure from that. Atlantis was very episodic for the most part and didn't have the galactic soap-opera problems that Universe suffered from.
Breaking Bad's third season was admitted to have been written purely episode to episode by show creator Vince Gilligan. While the honesty was appreciated, the pacing of the episodes in the season was painfully turbulent from week to week, and there was certainly a lot of purposeless building of characters who just ended up as Red Herrings.
Though, to be fair, this was just after Season 2, where everything was plotted out from the get go, which Vince later said was one of the most stressful experiences he ever had working in television.
Glee is increasingly seen as suffering from this by fans, with plots appearing and disappearing at random.
Really one of the best subversions has to be Babylon 5, whose creator made sure specifically that unlike Twin Peaks, his mysteries ("What happened to Sinclair at the Battle of the Line?", "Who are the Shadows", etc.) wouldn't take too long to learn the solution for, and that they would tie into the next mystery.
B5 isn't perfect, though. There are plot threads and questions, particularly from Season 1, that sort of got lost in the galaxy-wide events of later episodes. Part of this may be because JMS had to squash his initial plans for the fifth and final season into the second half of Season 4, but intriguing mysteries like the significance of Bureau 13 remain.
A lot of the unresolved stuff is actually resolved in the out-of-print and hard-to-find Babylon 5 novels, which are all considered canon as JMS kept strict control over them.
And intriguing as the Bureau 13 stuff was, B5 had to drop it following a threat of legal action from the makers of a computer game that also featured an organisation called Bureau 13. It was simply rolled into Psi-Corp as a whole.
In general though, the major distinction is that JMS had, supposedly, planned out the show as a mega-series of 5 seasons. No more. And with this, much of the background and what have you that it required. He planned a series of "trap doors", contingency plans that would keep the metaplot on track even if off-screen events interfered. So when production changed (actors leaving, etc.), rather than "Oops, what now?", he had a plan in place and could keep things moving. It helped that JMS also writes comic books where short story arcs that explain a lot are practically required.
An example of this is the unexpected departure of Andrea Thompson. She was eliminated without plot gimmicks (in fact, her method of removal foreshadowed a major plot several seasons later) and replaced seamlessly with Pat Tallman, who filled the necessary plot role without being a Suspiciously Similar Substitute.
The only really daunting problem came when the show was cancelled early and then abruptly revived on another network. Ending the show in Season 5 was the plan, he had a contingency to hurry things along and end in Season 4, but what he wasn't ready for was cancelling his contingency and rebooting the series after he'd already pulled the trigger.
The Event is like a drinking game of both characters informing each other of things we already know and ineffectively teasing us. "You know what happened last time!" Um, we don't, so how about you tell us?
As mentioned in a few other places, The Event was so bad about building itself up that some felt it hit tropes like this one before it ever premiered. Seriously, for months, viewers were subjected to the upcoming "event", often several times per commercial break. By the time it aired, many were so annoyed with the campaign they either lost interest, thinking it couldn't possibly live up to the hype it created for itself, or just didn't watch out of spite for taking up so much of their time.
The Killing is (probably) going to answer the central question of "Who killed Rosie Larsen?" at some point. Problem is, throughout Season 1, fans started to feel that the show kept throwing out Red Herring after Red Herring... and when the season finale finished with nary a hint as to who might actually be responsible, professional critics actually flipped their shit, with at least one saying they had absolutely no reason to want to keep watching.
Semi-enforced on How I Met Your Mother: although the creators intricately plot out certain subplots during each season in advance, they were never guaranteed more than one season at a time, so they were forced to keep their options open enough to be capable of making shit up for how Ted met his kids' mother in case they got cancelled. When they were guaranteed two more seasons near the end of Season 6, the show visibly hiked up the foreshadowing (mainly in the form of flashforwards and/or Future!Ted casually Jossing possibilities or stating facts about the future) of a far denser and more detailed plot in the later episodes of Season 6 and the earlier ones of Season 7. Still, Season 9 will be the end.
Supernatural is arguably heading this way. Since the showrunner changed at the end of Season 5, fans in general have become increasingly less happy with the course the show is taking, feeling that the current showrunner has abolished most of the important plot threads and as of Season 7 secondary characters that were popular with the fandom and arguably a large part of the show's success in previous seasons, and is now relying purely on a series of one-shot guest stars to maintain viewers. In addition to the showrunner's apparent insistence on writing out well-loved characters in favour of poorly receivedsuspiciously similar substitutes, this approach has not worked as intended.
This is arguably an aversion- the Myth Arc was actually resolved in Season 5. It's just that they got picked up for another series. Season 6 onwards is either an expansion or an all-new Myth Arc, though arguably it's a bit of both.
Doctor Who under Steven Moffat's control is divided between fans who think that the Grand Moff is laying threads in a genius fashion that he intends to pull together in several series' time, or that he's just making new shit up to get himself out of the implications of the shit he made up before.
During a Doctor Who Confidential in Series 6, Moffat even states "I wouldn't want the story to end. That would be bad!" Really now?
Part of this is due to the fact that so many plots bleed into each other, so it's hard to tell if one is truly forgotten or just merging with another one. For example, "Who is River Song?" eventually merged with the "Amy's possible baby" story as they both reached their climax in Series 6. This also paid off the "little girl astronaut" mystery from earlier, and set up another River Song subplot that didn't get resolved for another half a series.
However, most of the plot threads left dangling from Series 5 have never been properly resolved and probably never will be. A series of cracks in time appear, the TARDIS mysteriously blows up and destroys the universe and a mysterious voice repeatedly talks about "silence". In Series 6, the plot takes a left swerve and reveals the Silence are a movement led by a group of aliens no-one can remember seeing who are using River Song to kill the Doctor. This seems perfectly reasonable until you realise it doesn't actually explain the events of the previous series at all.
In the previous incarnation of the series, Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy's tenure was marked by the Lungbarrow Plot (aka the Cartmel Masterplan), a multi-season story arc designed to reset the continuity of the series and re-establish the mystery of the title character. This really was written in advance, and the payoff for the audience really was there...until Executive Meddling led to the show being cancelled early. The seeds which began to be sown in Season 25 continued to grow in the subsequent New Adventures novels (leading to a wonderful climax in, appropriately, Lungbarrow)...but never addressed in the new series thus far.
Lampshaded in the expanded universe of Castle, believe it or not. On the Richard Castle website, Castle wrote an article about what he called a Ponzi Plot. He explained that if you don't eventually resolve it, you lose your viewers.
This was posted a week before the Season 4 finale, where Castle and Beckett finally resolve their four-year will they/won't they arc by doing it.
Left still unresolved at that point was the mystery of the Case of Beckett's Mom, which many fans had also claimed was an example of this trope. Some fans speculate that Andrew Marlowe posted the article not to explain why Castle and Beckett finally hooked up but instead to reassure fans that the Beckett case really does have a solution, that it won't drag on forever, and the viewers really will like it. Sure enough, while this case still hasn't actually been closed, the mystery was solved in the Season 5 premiere.
It helps that Castle is primarily episodic, and so has never depended on its meta-plot to keep viewers interested. The show-runners were never worried that the fans would lose interest, and sure enough reactions have been very positive.
Arguably happened with Smallville. The show kept dicking around with viewers wanting to see Clark's development into Superman by focusing more on his on-again off-again relationship with Lana most of the time, and the by the time she was finally gone from the series in Season 8 they still managed to get renewed two more times and drag things. It didn't help that they also seemed to be finding increasingly complicated ways of making Clark do "Superman" things without actually coming out and making him Superman. The series finale wasn't exactly that satisfactory to certain sections of the fanbase either.
Nearly every plot thread in Primeval is left unresolved, be it the fate of Claudia Brown, the motivations of the villain in Series 2, the origin of the future city in Series 3, the significance of Patrick Quinn. No matter how significant something is played up in one series, you can be sure it'll be forgotten about in the next one. Rather than try to resolve any of them, the latest series ended by introducing a completely out-of-the-blue twist merely for the sake of a cliffhanger, and given the British show is unlikely to be renewed for another series, it's unlikely even that will ever be expanded on.
Pro wrestling has its own jargon for this: "hotshot" booking. This is when a show is literally written as it is being performed, either because the writers aren't prepared, a wrestler is suddenly unable to work a match during a live show requiring an abrupt change in his angle, or because the bookers are trying to be daring and edgy. Hotshot booking rarely produces anything but failure, however.
Eric Bischoff was notorious for this during the Monday Night War. He would often rewrite WCW Nitro while it was actually airing to counter-program WWF's Raw.
Vince Russo became an even more notorious example during his stint as writer for WCW toward the end of the Monday Night War. Characters turned and won and lost titles so often that fans lost track, numerous angles were abandoned midstream (most famously Stacey Kiebler's "pregnancy"), wrestlers would retire "forever" only to show up next episode (quick even by wrestling standards). There is a reason bad and nonsensical booking leads to chants of "Fire Russo!" even in promotions he's never worked for.
A lot of Russo's unanswered questions have become memes within the IWC, such as "Who Drove The Hummer?"
At WWE, the concept was put in writing as part of the company's "Wellness Program", which states that any "Superstar" fired for doping offenses must job his or her title/finish an angle in the ring immediately and without pay.
This was demonstrated in 2009, when Rey Mysterio was given a Wellness Vacation and dropped the Intercontinental Championship he was holding at the time to John Morrison (which promptly caused some fans to complain about Rey not dropping the title to Dolph Ziggler, who'd been in the hunt for the title for some time).
Injuries force a not quite as urgent example of this trope, too. Injured wrestlers can usually finish the match they're in (unless the injury is really bad), but they won't be back next week, and if they were in the middle of a storyline you've got a week (if you're lucky) to rewrite it. An example from the WWE: in 2009, Edge and Chris Jericho had formed a tag team, won the Unified Tag Team Championships, and were just starting off an arrogant heel run with the belts...and then Edge tore his Achilles tendon, putting him on the shelf for the rest of the year. WWE Creative, backed into a pretty unpleasant corner, had Jericho cut a promo on Edge for having the gall to get injured during their title run; he then hyped up his new mystery partner (who was much better than Edge)...who he'd be debuting at the next PPV. This bought them enough time to actually get a new story together.
In that example, it actually worked out great, as Jericho's partner was The Big Show, and the team (known as "JeriShow") went on to dominate the tag team division for a good part of the year.
A subsect of hotshot booking is "hotshot" title changes - title changes that happen fairly quickly and result in a number of different title reigns, often for no real reason. Like with hotshot booking, this is done either to cover for an injury or to change an angle on the fly. Unfortunately, such title changes - if they happen too often - can "devalue" the belts (in other words, fans will stop caring about who holds the titles, and thus stop caring about seeing wrestlers compete for the titles, making them worthless as an attraction). These kinds of title changes can also become somewhat predictable if used very often; if you know the belt's going to change hands every other week, why even bother to watch the champion defend their title? Hotshot title changes are one of the many reasons WCW is now out of business, and it's one of the many, many, many, many, many reasons TNA is so reviled amongst a good majority of the IWC.
An example of a hotshot title change from 2009: Jillian Hall defeats Mickie James to win the Divas Championship on the October 12 Raw. Her title reign lasts just a few short minutes, as Melina - just traded to Raw from Smack Down - comes in and wins the title in short order. (Of course, it was around this time rumors of WWE punishing Mickie for being too fat and/or behavioral issues came to light, which caused some fans to look at the hotshot reign as a punishment: rather than drop the title to Melina and look good in the process, Mickie dropped it to Jillian - essentially a Joke Character in WWE's Divas division - and had to watch Melina win it minutes later.)
Greg Farshtey, the writer for Bionicle, refers to this as the "Sizzle and Steak" effect — the sizzle is what lures people in, but sooner or later you have to produce the steak. Many Bionicle fans were unhappy with the series phasing out the fantasy elements and replacing them with very soft science fiction, especially the revelation that the Matoran universe was inside a Humongous Mecha, but as Greg pointed out, a major theme in Bionicle is people being wrong, and the truth will have to come out sooner or later or the audience will get frustrated.
Sadly, an enormous Schedule Slip, as well as the fact that LEGO considers Bionicle to be dead means that the steak will be shriveled up and indigestible, for the sizzle's taking too long and there's no plot resolutions in sight.
Some have accused Tetsuya Nomura of doing this with the Kingdom Hearts series. Each new game ties up the previous one's loose ends, but opens up twice as many new ones...
The series was deliberately designed with plot holes to fill because Nomura was unsure if it would really be worth it to make a sequel to the original game, and also because he wanted his fans to create their own theories about how things happened (which he succeeded at). Nomura recently confirmed that he always will make plot holes and bizarre, mysterious elements in a game, and make up the explanations while working on the next game. Rinse and repeat.
According to Nomura, the creator of Final Fantasy told him that he needed to make the game more complex or it wouldn't be able to compete with other games. Whether Nomura went way too far beyond this advice or if Japanese standards of complexity are different is another question entirely.
The Legacy of Kain series seems to be suffering from a fatal case of Chris Carter. Eidos never really knew what to do with it after Crystal Dynamics stole it from Silicon Knights (and told SK to throw their carefully-plotted story ideas for a sequel in the trash). Crystal Dynamics' next decision with the franchise, having multiple titles in development at the same time with different teams working on them, did little to gel any sort of solid story. The meat of the stories after the first game seemed to follow immortal, nigh-indestructible evolving vampires traveling through time and fighting extra-dimensional demons. The series' timeline spans thousands of years, and each additional game either flagrantly retcons and/or reset buttons the previous installations, including at least one cliffhanger ending that not only drew cries of the game being released incomplete, but wasn't actually resolved in the next game. It still could turn out to be one of the greatest series ever, provided they manage to put a bow on it. However, so far news from the developer seems to suggest that another sequel is unlikely.
Blood Omen 2 takes place entirely in an alternate timeline that was destroyed in the same game that it was created, and the other games ignore all of the retcons it made. If you ignore that one, the story is actually fairly straightforward once you understand the time travel mechanics.
That is a very common misconception. Defiance actually bridges the gap between Soul Reaver 2 and Blood Omen 2, like how did Janos fall into the hands of the Hylden?, although unfortunately it didn't patch up all plotholes. (Vorador's resurrection anyone?) Blood Omen 2 still exists in the new timeline.
Sluggy Freelance has been suffering from this problem for some time. During the first 6-7 years of the strip's existence, artist Pete Abrams created a veritable arsenal of Chekhovs Guns...then stopped firing any of them. To make matters even more frustrating, Abrams often spends many months working on side plots that don't play a major role in advancing the numerous plot threads he already created. Things are beginning to move again, but at this point it's hard to believe Abrams could possibly wrap up the strip in less than 4-5 years, even if he created no new plot elements. Every resolution adds a few more questions. Arguably, though, Abrams has been lampshading this with the "fate spider" comics.
Several things have been resolved, others clearly advanced; what seems like a majority of readers (on the forums) are confident enough Pete can pull it all together given (lots of) time. He has done it before on a more limited scale, and proven himself a master of planning in advance. So, averted in that faith has not been lost.
Erica Henderson did a very good job parodying this during her guest week back in 2007, pulling at several loose plot threads and even introducing "Pete" as a Wizard of Oz-type god.
The real irony? Back when The X-Files was still on the air, he made jokes at Chris Carter's expense about the need to resolve plotlines lest the reader lose faith or believe the writer is just making things up as he goes along.
After some 1,200 comics, the 8-Bit Theater foursome could probably have figured out a clever way to defeat Chaos and win the day as they did with all their other extremely powerful foes, but the story instead had them depowered and sent off somewhere to muck about, formulating some kind of plan to go back up against the Big Bad. Of course the comic runs on Padding and Anti-Climax, but still!
Of course, in this case, the Anti-Climax was awesome. Chaos defeated by four White Mages, which completes the joke set up some 1,400 strips before?YES!
There was some fear that this would happen to the venerable Goats would fall into this as the Infinite Typewriters Mega-Arc continued to add weirdness. John Rosenburg has assured us that it's all mapped out to 2012...despite the announcement of the strip ending afterwards. Granted it was pointed out that, if Goats was a person it would be time for its Bar Mitzvah.
For El Goonish Shive, Schedule Slip trouble + Dan Shive's love for Chekhov's Gun + his own tendency to occasionally forget stuff he did/didn't do = we should probably give up on expecting getting answers to all of the questions. He has recently been trying to get things sorted out by establishing things alluded to and having situations progress, as well as having several Fourth Wall Mail Slot bits between stories and a renewed effort to keep the strip updating 5 times a week (his 2012 average is probably 3.5 a week, which is pretty good, all things considered), so we'll have to see how he does.
Wapsi Square has been headed quickly in this direction since Cerebus Syndrome kicked in, and especially since the Calendar arc was (semi-)resolved. Creator Paul Taylor claims that it's all part of an extended story that he plotted at the comic's start; but many think he's simply making it up as he goes. The fact that all of the subplots and storylines involving the various personal relationships were unceremoniously dropped shortly after the start of the Golem Girls arc, with no attempt at a resolution, would seem to support this opinion. A few believe that the increasingly bizarre supernatural recent events may indicate something of a Creator Breakdown.
Homestuck has had no less than 25 mysteries and unresolved plot threads at any given point since the end of its second act.
Now, after 2 years, it has so many plots and mysteries both resolved and unresolved, that people need to read the MSPA wiki just to understand the NEWEST plot!
Word Of God has clarified that while Act 5 should be longer than Act 6, it may not be by much.
It's sort of a joke in the fandom about Act 5 in that the story will focus long enough to resolve one plot thread...and then make you realize that it introduced three others to do it.
This is likely part of the reason why the plot became a literal Scrapbook Story near the end of Act 5. It conveniently separates the loose ends and advances them more or less simultaneously, while allowing the reader to see the connections between them.
It's notable that the actual end to Act 5 wrapped up most of the loose ends and was considered to be immensely satisfying. Act 6 seems to be working on the rest, but it's introducing more threads of its own...AND it's being split-up into sub-Acts with Intermissions between them.
Reading from Act 4 to the current point of Act 6 demonstrates a startling degree of coherence. The new complexity in Act 6 had mostly been implied by symmetry - among the major developments, only uu/UU was unexpected, but that in itself has recently shown signs of, again, looping back around in a double-moebius you-know-what. All in all, the author of Homestuck has demonstrated an ability to draw things back together from seeming chaos so strong that it'd take years to undo the expectation that it would come back together again eventually.
Many of the plot elements from Season 1 of lonelygirl15 seem to have been completely forgotten. Cassie, anyone?
KateModern is much more successful in this regard, but still left a few threads hanging at the end.
The Whateley Universe was supposed to run more-or-less in real time, and staying ahead of the actual date...but the series started in 2004 and has barely gotten into Winter Term of the first year of school, with some stories still stuck back in the Fall. Some fans are wondering if the authors will live long enough to finish the main story arc. It's been joked that the stories will wrap up any century now.