"Every question met with another question. Never an answer. Only 'why?'"
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 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 or not building up to a satisfactory resolution, but on the other hand, the plotting sometimes 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 something else.
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
. Specifically, the combination of a Kudzu Plot
with Webcomic Time
can have a similar effect on the audience, even when a finale is in the works, if the piece stretches out long enough that the fans lose track of the original premise of the series.
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
. Compare Writing by the Seat of Your Pants
Named for Chris Carter
, creator of The X-Filesnote
, which some believe to be the godfather of this trope.
Contrast Fan-Disliked Explanation
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Anime and Manga
- 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.
- A degree of resolution was achieved in the Spider-Verse storyline.
- 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.
- Most of the plots in the book during "Spider-Man's" Brand New Day storyline essentially went nowhere. Mysteries such as who was Jackpot, what Mr. Negative was going to do with Peter's blood, what happened to erase Peter's memories, why Harry was alive, and more were given an anti-climactic resolution, dragged out for several years, or worse, both. The explanation for Harry Osborn's return was that the goblin serum revived him, which made no sense since it was the thing that killed him in the first place. Jackpot was a character that the character's never met before and was killed off during the same story. Mysteries such as the secret to how Peter's identity was made a secret again were resolved in a manner that most of the audience figured out already, leading many to question why it was kept a secret for three years. After a while, it became clear that the writers had no real major arc planned for the character and his mythos, and were just making it up as they went along.
- Strangers in Paradise featured a series of flash-forwards that never actually resolved or were explained. Writer Terry Moore went so far as to include not one but TWO fake-out reboots (one in which the comic's story turned out to be a book a new character was writing and another in which it turned out to all be a dream) which were then immediately discarded the very next issue. Eventually the last third of the series sort-of righted itself and all of the immediate conflicts were tied up by the end, but much of the first half of the run remains unexplained.
- Robert Jordan's Doorstopper series The Wheel of Time spent 11 books spinning out a Kudzu Plot, and Jordan himself seemed adamantly opposed to resolving any plot threads before the 12th and final book. Despite this, he 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. This turned out to be true, but for other reasons than he expected: Author Existence Failure. Brandon Sanderson, the writer tapped to finish the series in Jordan's stead, eventually decided that resolving every arc properly would take no less than three books. It did. Three, huge, massive books.note
- 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 Baudelaires' 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 with a destination of 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 the Sennites) 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.
- Even worse, it's hard to follow the plot of A Song of Ice and Fire: it's a vicious Deconstructor Fleet and almost always breaks genre conventions. While this makes for an exciting read, it also means that nobody has any idea what the final book will be like, and only the vaguest idea of what the overall Myth Arc even is. Add in the absolutely shameless Anyone Can Die approach to the series, with books 1, 3 and 5 involving the deaths of major fan favorites, and Martin has a lot of Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy to fight off if he wants to still have a fanbase for the seventh and (supposedly) final book.
- Maximum Ride suffers heavily from this, though it doesn't really become apparent until the third book. As the final book of a trilogy, you'd expect it to finally start resolving plot arcs, but instead it just keeps throwing in wackier and wackier twists while deliberately avoiding answering any questions.
- The Chris Carter Effect seems particularly prevalent in television programs of the last few years. Sci-fi blog Io9 elaborates on an argument which postulates that this is a result of the proliferation of quality television programming to the premium cable channels. This has quite simply resulted in a greater quantity of more 'daring' shows, and has led to many amazing TV series such as Mad Men, The Wire, The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad. However, because it also led to LOST, which further revolutionized the use of extended Myth Arcs, many more shows have sprung up in an attempt to imitate its success by copying this format (badly), including but certainly not limited to FlashForward, V, and The Event.
- 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 to this day looks like it may never 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.
- 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.
- Walter Bishop did quote Clarke's Third Law word for word in response to a particularly bizarre case. There aren't really any limits set for Fringe to break, though.
- Word of God is that they did have an ending and a way to get there, plotted over several seasons. However, said ending could be adjusted and deployed on short notice in case they didn't get as many seasons as they planned for, this is obvious given the sheer pacing of Season 5's storyline.
- This Trope is a suspected contributor to the failure of The Lone Gunmen.
- 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.
- 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.
- Perhaps the ultimate example is The Prisoner, which posed lots of ongoing questions — Who runs the Village? Why did Number Six resign? Who is Number One? — but ended with an utterly incomprehensible Grand Finale that answered none of them.
- 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.
- The fans actually wanted a resolution, but it's said that the writers got too focused on giving into the demands of whatever the message board consensus was this week and lost track of, y'know, the plot. And it got them Cancelled.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Katee Sackhoff left the show (Sackhoff was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and they did not know how long she will be gone for). 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.
- Ron Moore openly admitted after the finale, word for word, that David Eick had called him up on the phone and said "it will be a great way to hook viewers in Season 1 if we put 'the Cylons have a Plan' into the opening credits." Ron was hesitant at first, and actually said back into the phone "but there is no frakking Cylon Plan!" They had never sketched out the motivations, goals, or even full backstory and social structure of the Cylons. Word of God...there never was a "Cylon Plan", and they were lying the entire time. The TV movie was their desperate attempt to retcon an explanation, which gave the simple answer "the Cylon Plan was Kill All Humans but it didn't work".
- There was also "the secret of the opera house", something that was being hinted at being something of great significance since season 1. In the finale, it takes up about 5 minutes to resolve, has little to do with any opera house at all, and is utterly pointless. It involves a 2 minute kidnapping of a character who was just rescued from a much longer and bigger kidnapping, and a cease fire between the Cylons and Humans that lasts all of two minutes before shit hits the fan, and the kidnapper is simply shot. So the whole plot ends with a kidnappee being rescued and the Cylons shooting at Galactica. Which is the exactly the situation before this all-important resolution of the opera house plotline. You could have fallen asleep during the resolution and you wouldn't have missed a thing.
- 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?
- Then again, a lot of people were just happy to see Temporal Cold War go away forever, regardless of whether or not it was resolved properly.
- Even after the show's cancellation, the identity of "Future Guy" remained muddled. Rick Berman claimed that they had never established his identity, while Manny Coto and Brannon Braga said he was probably a Romulan, only for Braga to later go back on that claim he had always intended him to be Archer. Meanwhile, the EU novels took his character in a different direction than any of those stated possibilities, making him Jamran Harnoth, the leader of a eugenics movement who was also using time travel to ensure his own existence (being on Suliban, Tadaran, and Romulan descent).
- 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.
- Stargate Verse:
- Stargate Universe seemed to have this problem. 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. While this may not have been the only reason the series was cut short, it certainly didn't help.
- The series' predecessor, Stargate Atlantis eventually began to head in this direction, although Atlantis was still far more episodic than Universe ever was, which may be part of the reason Atlantis ran for 5 seasons to Universe's 1.5.
- SG 1 and SGA had arcs too, it's just that Universe was about the soap opera storylines, and the "run-down spaceship we can't actually steer" setting was just the reason why they were all crammed into the same place. Even the planets they visited to collect supplies were always uninhabited - going through the Stargate doesn't mean "Soap opera over, enter the new Goa'uld/Ori/Wraith!" but instead "the same argument from before is continued in the desert." The sci-fi plots anyone who was watching because it was Stargate wanted to see were never intended to take center stage, and the clearer that became, the fewer people watched.
- 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.
- Sons of Anarchy has an infamous amount of this and it has gotten worse as the seasons have gone on. It is common for them to stretch a single question across an entire series. A running joke amongst fans is that Jax always says he will get to the bottom of something, but doesn't. Season 6 is particularly directionless both due to FX letting every episode be 90 minutes or longer leading to a surplus of pointless subplots in every episode and the planned season long Big Bad having to be offed four episodes in due to the actor's schedule. Thanks to this there is no main driving conflict for much of the season but instead several plotlines piled on top of one another with none really taking primacy.
- The Event was 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.
- Ironically, the show's creator had planned the story arcs to unfold over five seasons, and promised in his tweets after the first episode that the show would resolve most of its mysteries within an episode or two of introducing them—which it generally did. Due to declining ratings during the fall, NBC forced him to speed up his timetable after the hiatus so that plot developments he had planned for the second season instead took place during the second half of the first, with predictable results.
- The Killing eventually answered the central question of "Who killed Rosie Larsen?" at the end of Season 2. 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.
- Thankfully, they averted this in Season 3, and the killer was revealed (as promised) in the same season.
- 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 is the end.
- This was actually referenced as a common criticism of the series finale. The show ends with the entire nine-season story being a thinly veiled excuse for Ted to justify to his kids that he's going to get back together with "Aunt Robin" after the mother/Tracy's death. The footage used for this reveal was actually shot during season two, as the kids look much younger than they are in the rest of the clips from said finale. The reveal was criticized by people for being a last-minute Shocking Swerve in a series that had seen all manner of extraneous storylines, Ted going through numerous relationships and eventually coming to the realization that he would never have Robin (and seeing her literally floating away in his mind after they both realized that love just wasn't enough) and a decade's worth of characterization in the interim. Fans complained that the only way the ending made sense is if you disregarded the last eight seasons of development, and the poor reception may have been a factor in why the Spin-Off How I Met Your Father got stuck in Development Hell (due to viewers shying away from another long-term Myth Arc that never pays off).
- Supernatural headed this way during Seasons 6-7. 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 new showrunner had abolished most of the important plot threads and as of Season 7 secondary characters that were popular with the fandom and 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 received suspiciously similar substitutes, this approach has not worked as intended.
- General consensus seems to that since Sara Gamble's departure and Jeremy Carver's debut, the show - while still not as good as the earliest seasons - has managed to get back on course, having completely abandoned the boring Leviathan mythology, and returning to the Angel and Demon mythology.
- Doctor Who
- In the original 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 2005 revival 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.
- And now with the end of season 6, the storyline about beckett's mother's murder has also been resolved.
- 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.
- Of course, since Smallville is a prequel to the Superman mythos, they actually knew exactly where all the key plotlines were going- its just, since it took ten whole seasons to get there, they ended up coming up with any number of sub-plots to fill up the space; in that regard, its actually an inversion. At the end of season 4 onwards- likely, longer than they expected the show to go on-, they changed tack and began bringing in supporting characters and villains that Clark would normally only have met after he left Smallville, such as Brainiac and Lois Lane (Lex Luthor, in some versions, really did live in Smallville and was friends with Clark, so he made sense). By the end of the show he's met most of his major allies and villains and started the Justice League, all before he even puts on the cape!
- 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, etc. 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 it's unlikely to be renewed for another series, it's unlikely even that will ever be expanded on.
- The Mentalist. The Red John Myth Arc has become far more elaborate and convoluted than originally intended. While it appears that Bruno Heller always knew who Red John was going to be (or picked his possible choices early on, at least), the character went from a particularly devious Serial Killer who knew how to cover his tracks, to a Serial Killer who knew a few other killers, to a Serial Killer with a shadow army of fanatically devoted, loyal-unto-death brainwashed followers. In season 6 they took his catchphrase ("Tiger, Tiger") and decided to turn what looked like a cult into a sophisticated criminal organization that nobody had heard of, and made Red John a possible member, to a possible senior member, and finally into the apparent mastermind of the whole thing. Oh, and he's repeatedly performing "psychic" feats that make Jane look like an amateur, that are never explained. Beyond a certain point he's basically a supervillain and you have to start wondering why he ever resorted to anything as trivial as serial murder in the first place. The Reveal that he is Sherriff McCallister only raised further issues, as many clues that were dropped about Red John turn out to be irrelevant (his height, for instance- the actor in question is taller than Red John was stated to be). Practically all of the clues that pointed to him were only dropped in the sixth season, the one he was revealed in; most ones from previous seasons were never mentioned again.
- This was an unfortunate side-effect of the 24-hour format. The producers often had to write storylines in advance, and would often resort to filler or sidestories to kill time until the next important revelation. Likewise, the villains almost always changed midway through the season, which often threw out the carefully-set up goals and motivations for the enemies and often resulted in The Man Behind the Man being revealed and fans getting tired of it, even if it made no sense in the long run.
- Done by necessity in Season 1. The production team had no idea if they would be renewed for the back half of the season, so they closed off the storyline by having Jack rescue his wife and daughter in the thirteenth episode and all plots being tied up. When Kiefer Sutherland won a Best Actor Golden Globe and the show was suddenly renewed thanks to the hype, the producers suddenly had to throw in a number of ridiculous plotlines (including a heretofore-unrevealed second assassin showing up who is having a relationship with one of his target's staff members, Jack butting heads with a sniper who hates him for something he did in the past, the Stunt Casting of Dennis Hopper, Teri's Easy Amnesia, Kim getting kidnapped again and the Ass Pull that Nina was the mole in CTU).
- The eventual resolution of the three-season arc that began with the assassinations in Season 5, made of equal parts Gambit Pileup and Ass Pull. It is revealed that the businessman Alan Wilson is the ultimate enemy overseeing a chain that passes down from himself, controlling a cabal that includes Jonas Hodges (who was working with Benjamin Juma to overthrow the White House), controlling another group led by Jack's brother Graem (being controlled by his father, who is working with the Chinese government), who is advising President Evil Charles Logan (which was itself caused by one of the writers asking midway through the fifth season, "Hey, what if the President was evil?) and finally to the group of assassins that murdered David Palmer and Michelle Dessler. The failure of season 6 (and the stalling plot arc that was created by this mess) is what forced the show to undergo a Retool and move to the other side of the country in order to get things moving and resolve it. Even then, most fans weren't happy with the outcome - Wilson becomes a Karma Houdini who basically gets away scot-free with his crimes.
- 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.
- 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 Smackdown - 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 then 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.
- 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.
- One example: all the events of Blood Omen 2 (released 4th) happen between the events of Blood Omen 1 and Soul Reaver 1 (released 1st and second) in a timeline created in Defiance (released 5th) and destroyed in Soul Reaver 2 (released 3rd).
- The Halo series is working on averting this after having fallen into this trope for a time. Many elements of the expanded universe were introduced and then never brought up again, such what the MacGuffin Forerunner Crystal was supposed to be, how many Spartans had survived to the present, what happened to the Spirit of Fire, etc. After the series was turned over from Bungie to 343 Industries, the new studio began a massive effort to finally give answers to all the loose threads, sometimes by the dozens within the same work.
- Any new partner characters, second-string villains, or "B" plots in the Resident Evil series are typically met with derision because, so far, only one out of nearly a dozen of these characters has ever reappeared in any other games. As a rule, many fans tend not to get too invested into these characters when they know they'll just end up Put on a Bus anyway.
- Assassin's Creed has been accused of this by Yahtzee during the Ezio trilogy. Many were expecting Desmond to get his own game set in the modern era, but instead the plot is hap-hazardly concluded in the fifth main game. The overall conflict between the Assassin's and the Templars is overall feeling like this considering that, as of the end of 2014, there are eight main games and many more spin-off games, none of which do anything to conclude this facet of the story.
- A common problem for long-running webcomics with an overarching plot. Since Writing by the Seat of Your Pants is common for this medium, it's easy to get carried away. Combined with Schedule Slip this may make finishing the comic within the author's lifetime highly unlikely and may lead to the comic being dropped by the author.
- 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.
- As of the start of 2013, the new Mohkadun arc began, and has been firing off said Chekhov's Guns at an astounding rate, explaining large amounts of the K'z'k plotline, which has not been given more than the occasional ominous nod since 2005, and covering a large variety of minor mysteries.
- 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.
- According to the author, this is why Concession is ending.
- 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 getting answers to all of the questions. He has 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!
- 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.
- Megatokyo suffers from this, and the schedule slips don't help matters any.
- Played with in Negamaki. The plot points are introduced and wildly discarded, except it's acknowledged and played for laughs by the characters. Characters have, more than once, decided to "wait out" a current turn of events or attempt to ignore a twist with the knowledge it will just go away when the author gets bored.
- A Word of God post in the comments section declared that each pages's plot is basically made up as it's being assembled.
- Polymer City Chronicles started as a silly gaming comic, eventually slipped to longer storylines involving space aliens (Blue Skinned Space Babes, The Greys, Body Snatchers, crystal life forms, Petting Zoo People refugees of interstellar war and so on), Pirates Who Don't Do Anything, and other things reminiscent of Fred Perry's Gold Digger. The author kept switching to new stories leaving previous plots hanging. He stopped updating the comic when finishing only the ongoing plots would've taken him 70 years (taking his usual Schedule Slip into the account).
- 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.
- Marble Hornets is a found-footage format series that's driving force were the events behind the titular student film. However, even after the initial fourteen entries that establish the initial mystery, things don't let down from there and Jay's own investigations end up adding mystery after mystery. Parts of the larger Myth Arc included the Masked Men, Jay's enigmatic stalker totheark, the whereabouts of the mysterious girl Jessica whom Jay meets in season two, and of course the Operator itself. By the end of the series, many of these are left unexplained or open to interpretation. Much like Lost, how effective this was depends on whether you prefer the show being left open to interpretation or having these answers explained.
- In an interesting case for this trope, the creators of the series were honest with themselves in that they had no initial idea for a long-term plan to the series, and most of the mysteries created in season one where done so more out of Rule of Scary rather than any necessity to the plot or Myth Arc (considering the show was made on a whim and they planned on wrapping it up at the end of the first season, it makes sense). However, once production on season two started, they decided they would up the ante and actually make sense of those non-nonsensical ideas they initially made.