Trapped by Mountain Lions

Kim Bauer in her natural habitat.

A subplot (usually in a drama) that is so disjointed from the main plot that you can't figure out why anyone would care about it, when the fate of the world is being decided elsewhere.

There are several reasons why this might happen. Maybe the author has introduced Loads and Loads of Characters and doesn't want people asking What Happened to the Mouse?. Maybe he doesn't want a new character to come out of nowhere. Maybe a comic relief character keeps getting scenes during a dramatic or serious portion of the plot, causing Mood Whiplash. Maybe the principal character is just a Creator's Pet, and you can't get anyone to care about it, meaningful or not. Or maybe the writers just needed to fill up time somehow.

This trope is named for Kim Bauer and her escapades in season 2 of 24. Whereas Kim was integral to the storyline of the first season, by season 2 the show had Elisha Cuthbert under contract and no way to work her character into the main plot. This resulted in a series of B-stories where Kim is chased by her employer's homicidal husband, briefly detained after said employer's corpse is found in the trunk of her stolen car, causes an auto crash that severs her boyfriend's legs, gets lost in the wilderness, is caught in a bear trap and surrounded by mountain lions (thus the trope name), held prisoner by a lonely mountain man who tricks her into thinking the world has ended, becomes a hostage in a liquor store holdup, and is menaced by the husband again when she goes to his house to get her stuff and he somehow manages to kill the trained law enforcement professionals escorting her. Meanwhile in the actual, interesting main plot, her father tries to locate and defuse a nuclear bomb that's fallen into the hands of terrorists while a conspiracy within the government abuses the situation to make a power-grab. (It was a busy day.)

Of course, this trope can be justified, and in many instances is wrongly invoked when what the writers are doing is too subtle for the audience. For instance, the side plot can be a step towards resolution of an inner problem of a character, without which they would be unable to solve an outer problem later. And, of course, it can be straight up Character Development.

Compare Wacky Wayside Tribe, where the entire cast is involved and there is no A-story. See also Deus Exit Machina, Filler, Padding, and Big Lipped Alligator Moment. Romantic Plot Tumor is a subtrope of this, as is Wangst. Compare The Greatest Story Never Told and Red Skies Crossover.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Any scene with Bulma during the Frieza Arc of Dragon Ball Z. Amusingly enough, there's one segment in the show where Krillin and Gohan hear her screaming in the distance and wonder if she really was literally Trapped By Mountain Lions (to which Krillin responds "I'd feel sorry for the lion." None of these scenes were in the manga.) Most of these scenes are Played for Laughs rather than being considered serious moments, since who would honestly worry that Bulma was in genuine mortal danger at that point in the story?
  • For most of Gundam00's first season, civilian teens Saji Crossroad and Louise Halevy seemed to serve no purpose at all. Until a Wham Episode comes as it makes them innocent victims of war, with Saji losing his sister Kinue and with Louise being orphaned and mutilated. In the second season, then, Saji becomes the main character Setsuna's partner and co-pilot of sorts, and Louise is an artifically enhanced enemy soldier..
    • The second season had shades of this trope as well, with side characters such as Graham Aker (under the guise of one "Mr. Bushido"), Marina Ismail, Wang Liu Mei, Nena Trinity and Ali al-Saachez carrying on with their own stories without much relevance to the larger outcome of the story.
  • At one point in Code Geass, Ohgi, Viletta, and Sayoko are at the top of a waterfall. Sayoko tries to kill Viletta, and Ohgi jumps in the way. He falls off the waterfall toward some sharp rocks. This scuffle was never mentioned again, and didn't have anything to to with what was going on.

    Films — Animated 
  • Parodied in The Emperor's New Groove. Because the movie is full of Unreliable Narrator, at the start he's narrating events he couldn't possibly have witnessed, then his own narration gets sidetracked by the chimp and the bug ("Wwwwhat's with the chimp and the bug? Can we get back to me?"), and then later, Kuzco-as-narrator briefly converses with Kuzco-as-character. Kuzco-as-narrator also tries to claim that spending plot-time with Pacha and his family is an example of this trope. Fortunately, there's very little fourth wall in this film.
  • In the Ice Age movies, the small clips of Scrat constantly trying to grab a hold of a sole acorn have aspects of this. Subverted at the end of the second film, when his eventual retrieval of the acorn ironically saves everyone from The Great Flood. Though it must be considered that Scrat's the most beloved part of the series despite having little to no bearing to the main plot; his scenes are almost entirely just there for comic relief, and for the most part, it works fairly well.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Everything dealing with former reporter Steve Martin (played by Raymond Burr) and the American army in The Return Of Godzilla. These scenes were filmed and written specifically for the American cut of the film, mimicking the original importation of Godzilla: King of the Monsters!, where Burr's character was much better integrated into the plot, mostly by essentially taking the narrative place of Hagiwara, a major character in the Japanese cut. But in Return, none of the American characters actually do anything, so we're left watching other people effectively watching this same darn movie.
  • The lengthy "Broadway Ballet" sequence in Singin' in the Rain seems to divide fans on the question of whether it is entertaining enough to justify leaving the plot on hold for over ten minutes.
  • Ditto the long ballet segment in the middle of (the uncut version of) Ken Russell's The Boy Friend.
  • The second half of A Day At The Races has an extended musical interlude which starts with Allan Jones singing "Tomorrow Is Another Day," which is followed by Harpo using his flute to summon a black chorus which sings "Blow That Horn, Gabriel" and "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm." (The chorus has nothing else to do in the movie except reappear to sing the finale.) Many Marx Brothers consider this sequence as objectionable on an Ethnic Scrappy level, but it's not really that bad by itself and the choir are very good, but it just stops the plot dead and its earnestness clashes painfully with the Marxes' usual slapstick and wisecracks.
    • There's also the water ballet sequence, which even the film historian on the DVD commentary advises you to skip!
    • Pretty much all of the MGM Marx Bros. movies have a disposable musical number or two - Races at least has the exceptional talents of Ivie Anderson and Whitey's Lindy Hoppers on full display. The funny thing is that these moments weren't so much filler as they were a throwback to old vaudeville variety shows, but it can be fairly jarring for modern audiences.
  • The Transformers film series has a lot of this. The first movie has a subplot involving hackers that, in retrospect, does absolutely nothing to move the plot forward (it didn't help that the scenes were a little boring and featured some spectacularly bad Hollywood Hacking). The Romantic Plot Tumor in both movies tends to fit the "Why should we care?" aspect due to how jarring it is next to the action that everyone came to see.
  • The original The Last House on the Left would occasionally cut away from the main plot to show the antics of a pair incompetent cops trying to get back to the Collingwood house.
  • In The Matrix Revolutions, the machines are plotting to destroy Zion. They have done this six times before, and there is nothing special about this Zion. The only hope is that Neo can stop the machines at the source. This does not change that about 60%-70% of the movie is about the battle at Zion, with Neo's adventure as almost an afterthought.
  • The subplot with the teenage couple in the car in "Manos" The Hands of Fate is completely irrelevant to what's going on with the rest of the cast. It briefly appears to have gained a shred of relevance when the couple points the police in the direction of where the main characters are. The police go to investigate and even hear a gunshot... and then immediately give up ("Sound does travel a long way at night. It could be clear over in Mexico, for that matter.") thus making the subplot entirely pointless again.
  • In Stealth, after Jessica Biel's character gets shot down, she manages to safely land in North Korea, meaning the audience has to be repeatedly subjected to scenes of her attempting to flee the North Korean army. The main plot of the film (about an AI fighter jet which goes rogue and attempts to instigate nuclear war) is pointlessly and awkwardly dropped off so that the climax of the film can be about saving her from North Korea.
  • According to Roger Ebert, Pearl Harbor is about how on December 7th, 1941, the Japanese forces staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle. Especially baffling because none of the main characters are present for the initial attack.
  • According to Kevin Smith, during the initial writing for a Superman film that never got made, Jon Peters demanded a scene about Brainiac fighting a polar bear, just to add another "action beat" to the movie.
  • The cop subplot (if you can even call it that, considering how thin it is) from the original version of The Amityville Horror.
  • The excuse for the stunt flying competition in State of the Union is that the protagonist is an airplane tycoon. It's still strikingly irrelevant sequence for a political comedy, especially one based on a play.
  • From Russia with Love has a lengthy subplot where Bond has to aid his friend Kerim Bay against an assassin making an attempt on his life. The original novel had this as well.
  • The main plot of The Ledge deals with a love triangle between a Christian, an Atheist and the former's wife, however, for some reason there is also the sub-plot of the cop discovering that his children are not his.
  • Several scenes in Dario Argento's Deep Red focus on Rome's police department dealing with an officer's strike. While partially explaining why the protagonist must investigate the murders himself, these scenes are handled so perfunctorily they add nothing to the film.
  • The film SST Death Flight (one of the first films to be riffed by Mystery Science Theater 3000) is exceptionally guilty of this. The main plot is about a commercial plane suffering engine trouble with a contagious disease stored onboard, but there are innumerable subplots that have almost nothing to do with this: a guy and a wife discuss his possible job change, a woman and her lover (John de Lancie) meet her ex (Peter Graves) and tension ensues, a consultant on the plane has an old grudge against the pilot, a beauty contest winner doin PR work has gotten knocked up by her colleague.

  • Subversion: In the second book of the second Warrior Cats arc, the protagonists are heading home after a long journey, but get abducted by the Tribe of Rushing Water who want them to fight a mountain lion for them. However, the Tribe of Rushing Water become important later on, when they give shelter to the Clans who have left their forest forever after its destruction.
  • During his Malloreon series, David Eddings would frequently insert a chapter which revealed what minor characters from all over the world were doing. These were semi-interesting but ultimately had little bearing on the real plot (other than the ones with the ride off the island at the end).
    • It did help to alleviate the "Dragonlance syndrome" where the hero party seems to be walking through an RPG world where nothing happens if they are not directly involved. Eddings used it far more successfully in the Belgariad, though, where the war in the south was far more interesting than the walkabout of Garion, Belgarath, and Silk.
  • The Star Wars: Legacy of the Force books are plagued by this, from Jaina's unending token Love Triangle to the Mandalorian subplots in Karen Traviss books, which are notably being ignored by the other two writers. Guess the main plot, with Jacen Solo and his quest to become a Sith Lord, is just that irrelevant.
    • The Black Fleet Crisis is even worse, with two entirely separate stories, having no connection except that they take place at the same time and end up with characters in the same star system after everything has been resolved, and one of them serving no purpose except to include Lando in the book.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire is a strange case when it comes to this - due to the books' sprawling, as-yet-vague Myth Arc, relatively slow pace and Loads and Loads of Characters, people have accused both the currently-central gritty civil war & politics plot and the currently-in-the-background more fantastical elements (Daenerys' and Jon's plots specifically) of being this, although both camps could be seen as missing the point of the series.
    • Then came A Feast For Crows, which features Brienne looking for Sansa and Arya Stark, who by this point the readers know are finally relatively safe and near impossible for her to find, following numerous leads that the readers know are false and finally getting herself hanged and lots of new POV characters in parts of the setting a long way away from the established centre of the conflict - Dorne and the Iron Islands. Lots of people found the new plots to be a case of Trapped By Mountain Lions, which was exacerbated by the fact that the book didn't include roughly half of the older POV characters. It's easy to see that the new POVs might intersect with the established plotlines, but A Feast For Crows did little more than set things up... which is in keeping with the author's description of it as "scene one of act two".
      • Of course, the by now legendary Schedule Slip of A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book, may well have made the hate directed at A Feast For Crows that much worse.
      • Unfortunately, A Dance with Dragons has a major Trapped By Mountain Lions plot, the infamous Meereenese knot. One could argue that this plot will have an impact in the overall arch of the series but, since no closure is given after roughly a thousand pages, it definitely feels like this trope.
    • For those unfamiliar with the series: The first three novels covered characters and events over a very large geographical area, roughly in chronological order. Book four was mostly written in the same manner, but eventually the author split it into two books based on geographical area - A Feast for Crows was released in 2005 and A Dance With Dragons in 2011, after its release date had been pushed back multiple times. At the conclusion of A Feast for Crows, three major plot threads still going at the ends of the previous volume, A Storm of Swords, were left unaddressed. While two characters, Jon and Danerys, saw some level of resolution in the end of A Storm of Swords and weren't in any immediate danger since last we saw them, Tyrion had been last seen fleeing for his life and the cliffhanger established in the previous book wasn't resolved until the publication of A Dance With Dragons - more than 10 years after A Storm of Swords was released.
  • Any chapter containing the character Fletcher Kale in Dean Koontz's Phantoms. It's made even worse by the fact that, with the exception of the first chapter he appears in and the final epilogue chapter, he never interacts with any of the other main characters at all, and nothing else in the story would have been affected if his character had been cut. It's hard to find the escape of a murderer sociopath the least bit compelling, or find the character the least bit menacing, given the Eldritch Abomination everyone else is dealing with several dozen miles away.
  • A large amount of Iain M. Banks's Look to Windward is concerned with a subplot in which a character discovers what is happening in the main plot and tries to warn or help. However, because of the timing and the huge distances involved between the locations of the two plots, it is obvious from the beginning that nothing he does will be able to have any effect on the main plot, and though the subplot runs through the entire novel, it never makes contact with the main plot.
  • In the Inheritance Cycle, Nasuada's chapters in the second book, Eldest, which were primarily centered around solving disputes and economic problems within the Varden while Roran and Eragon follow much more meaningful plots. In Brisingr, Roran's chapters can also be considered this, as his role and importance are reduced and he spends most of his chapters fighting inconsequential battles against small numbers of Imperial forces, wrestling down a troublemaking urgal, and spending time and dealing with the matters surrounding his newly-wed and pregnant wife, while Eragon is, as usual, doing more important things. Saphira's chapters are also generally negatively considered, as they only serve to show how arrogant she is, the fact that she misses Eragon, and that her inner-monologue has a bizarre use of adjectives that never turns up in her telepathic speech.
  • The necromancers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach in Memories of Ice, the third book in the The Malazan Book of the Fallen. They travel to a city that later comes under siege, interact with various of the main characters, but contribute nothing at all to the overall story. (They do get a series if spin-off novellas, though).
  • Dear Lord, the "Perrin rescues his kidnapped wife" subplot in The Wheel of Time. It wasn't remotely interesting in the first place, and the sheer number of books through which it managed to drag on — keeping Perrin perpetually mopey and unable to do anything cool — was simply infuriating.
    • Everyone agrees, Mat Cauthon is the best of the Two Rivers characters. Robert Jordan remedied this by having him spend an entire book unconscious, and when he finally wakes up spend another book, nearly one thousand pages, as sex-slave to a deranged queen through blackmail and threat of force, while the supporting characters actively encouraged it. And he's sad to leave (Rape Is Okay When It's Female on Male). A man with the power to attract evil like a beacon and Badass Normal fighting skills, the memories of a thousand conquerors trapped in his brain... and his entire role in that book was to have chapter after chapter dedicated to describing the pink frills he was forced to wear.
      • Luckily Robert Jordan realized that the one character people actually liked was shut away in a closet somewhere (almost literally) and Mat spends the next book showing everyone just how Badass a Fourstar Badass can really be. And then he got about 3 chapters in the book after that. Figures.
    • Averted in Knife of Dreams. At the end, when Tuon finds out she is the new head of the Seanchan, she kisses Mat and rides off to claim her throne. Normally, this would have been at least a books worth of writing. Thankfully, it is cleaned up by the Epilogue.
  • The original novel of The Godfather contains two sub-plots which were cut from the movie for their total irrelevance to the main plot. One of the sub-plots involves Frank Sinatra Johnny Fontane and his buddy in Hollywood; the other follows the adventures of Sonny's mistress in Las Vegas and contains, among other things, no less than twenty pages on the subject of women's reproductive health. Presumably the author felt that this was an anvil that badly needed to be dropped on 1950s America, but still...
  • The Waterloo sequence in Les Misérables. Several other chapters qualify, but Waterloo gets the mention because it's 60 pages long and only the last 2 are at all relevant to the rest of the plot. That said, it is brilliantly written.
  • Theo Willoughby's whole plotline in Kate Furnivall's The Russian Concubine. Why do we care that the heroine's high school teacher is being blackmailed by his girlfriend's father into participating in the drug trade? Much less his sexual exploits with said girlfriend?
  • Subverted, interestingly enough, in Ian Irvine's The Three Worlds Cycle, with the inclusion of various plotlines that, while all containing major characters, are usually completely seperate from each other. Then, just as it looks like a Trapped By Mountain Lions moment, the plot strands all come together to form a major twist. Though this arguably happens in every book in the series (and this is literally eleven books already), the best example from the first Story Arc (the first quartet in the Cycle) would be in The Tower On The Rift, where the main heroes are essentially split into three groups. One group is Karen and Shand who seem to be making their way across a desolate wasteland desert for no reason except that Karen has a 'feeling' that her lover is in the random fortress in the dead centre (that has blatantly been placed there for no other reason than to extend the series by one extra book). Guess where the Big Showdown takes place...
  • The adultery and organized crime subplots in Jaws. It's utterly obvious why those plots didn't make it into the movie.
  • The crazy state trooper subplot from Friday the 13th: Road Trip, and everything involving the two FBI agents from Friday The13th Hate Kill Repeat.
  • The FBI's search for the terrorists who caused the subway bombing in Final Destination: Destination Zero; it eventually culminates in an abrupt yet brief Genre Shift from horror to action, involving stuff like a warehouse shootout and a high speed chase through the city during rush hour.
  • In The Lord of the Isles series, at least two out of the four main characters are Trapped By Mountain Lions for a significant portion of each book, after the first novel. Of course, Fridge Brilliance suggests that because of this when three characters visit The Underworld in a book called The Gods Return it is not readily apparent that this is more than yet another trippy side trip. On the other hand, was it really necessary to have eight books worth of Trapped By Mountain Lions?
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has been accused of having this as its main storyline, which is the only point of view given after the first chapter. Obviously Harry, Ron and Hermione hunting down the Horcruxes is a big deal, but with its difficult pacing and long stretches of Dumbledore backstory only tangentially necessary to the plot, it sort of falls short compared to Voldemort having taken over the Ministry of Magic and Neville running La Résistance inside the school, which the Golden Trio (and thus the readers) only hear about secondhand.
    • Critics have derisively called this book Harry Potter and the 300-Page Camping Trip (and other variations on the name) given the amount of time spent on Harry, Ron, and Hermione trying to avoid the Death Eaters in the wilderness, especially werewolves. They may not be mountain lions, but they're awfully close.
  • Really, several parts of Twilight. Even when there's this huge vampire war looming, the focus of the book is still on the relatively shallow romance between the two main characters.
    • Stephenie Meyer released a few scenes cut from the book. It's clear why her editor nixed them—one interrupted the whole "fleeing from a psychotic vampire" plot so that Alice could take Bella shopping for expensive clothes, while another one, set after the battle, had them and Edward randomly stop to gamble in Vegas on the way back to Forks.
    • In Eclipse, right at the final battle, Edward and Jacob decide to take Bella away from it to keep her safe. The battle is almost completely ignored so that we can focus on Bella (predictably) choosing Edward over Jacob.
  • In the Codex Alera book Furies of Calderon, two characters spend a while being pursued by Kord, a creepy rapist who seems more interested in creepy slave rape than he does in the fact that Calderon is currently being invaded. However, in later books in the series the abuses of the Aleran slave system and characters working against it will become a significant plot point, and the sadistic High Lord who is the ultimate backer of the slave trade will become a major villain; Kord's character exists to set this all up for the reader.
  • The Redwall series: If a novel doesn't involve the Big Bad trying to take over Redwall, but there is still a Redwall subplot involved, it probably falls under this trope. Some examples include...
    • The Ironbeak subplot in Mattimeo, which has nothing to do with Matthias' journey to rescue Mattimeo and slay Slagar.
    • The Dryditch Fever subplot in Salamandastron.
    • The Slipp and Blaggut subplot in The Bellmaker. But since this subplot involves Blaggut, the first vermin who isn't truly evil or a Jerkass, you'll probably find yourself drawn into it.
    • Depending on how you feel about him, Veil Sixclaw's entire subplot from Outcast of Redwall is this.
      • Considering Veil is the title character (It's called "Outcast of Redwall", not "Sunflash Kicks Ass") that's quite an achievement.
    • Inverted in The Legend of Luke. It is because of the Wacky Wayside Tribe subplots that the novel didn't become extremely short and/or boring.
  • The subplot in Neil Gaiman's Stardust about the princes Primus and Septimus trying to kill each other isn't very well integrated with the main plot about Tristran and Yvain. The main characters briefly meet Primus and never meet Septimus, who ends up getting anticlimactically killed by the Big Bad. To be fair, it reads less like clumsy plotting and more like Gaiman was deliberately working against readers' expectations.
    • This was re-written a bit for the movie, with Septimus being given a more active role, and he and the hero meet during the climax.
  • She is the Darkness, the eighth book of The Black Company, has the wizard Goblin on a secret mission for most of the novel, with the narrator occasionally checking in on him via Dream Spying. It's revealed late in the novel that the purpose of this secret mission is to keep Goblin's ongoing squabble with another wizard from complicating matters during this critical junction in the war.

    Live Action TV 
  • The trope-naming incident involving Kimberly in 24. Kim Bauer and her father interact so little throughout the entire series that it's clear her role exists only due to contract requirements and her ability to fill a wet T-shirt.
    • This was so derided that it was brought up in Elisha Cuthbert's next series, Happy Endings.
    Penny: What if you were, like, stuck in a trap in the woods and, like, a cougar was trying to eat you? Would you date then?
    Alex: That's insane, why would that even happen?
    Penny: I have no idea, forget that, cause maybe your dad is the head of some elite counter-terrorist unit and he has 24 hours to - I don't know! The point is, would you date?
    • The show's first season was originally going to have Teri Bauer falling asleep for a few episodes (thanks to the show's Real Time format), since her storyline ended once she escaped from the terrorists that had captured her. However, the producers demanded that she stay in the show and so she ended up contracting amnesia and walking around not doing much for a few hours instead.
    • The sixth season's story arc regarding Morris's alcoholism has similarly been identified as pointless by some fans.
    • Every season of 24 has at least one of these. It's almost unavoidable. Sometimes the plot threads get tied back into the main thrust of the story. Even the villain of season 3 calls out Jack's heroin addiction, saying it's completely irrelevant to the story.
    • The 'redneck' subplot from the start of season 8 annoyed many. Made even more annoying by revelations later in the season proving the actions of a certain character COMPLETELY out of character.
    • This is somewhat subverted in season 5 when a seemingly pointless subplot involving Lynn's drug addict sister ends up causing his keycard to fall into enemy hands, which in turn allows them to attack CTU.
    • One aspect of sequel series 24: Live Another Day that's been particularly praised is the fact that this trope is overall largely averted. Its shorter episode count allowed the writers to focus primarily on the main plot at hand.
    • The Indian adaptation has one in the first season itself. Because Kim's story is split between Kiran and Veer, we have Veer needlessly fooling around escorting an unknown girl home, getting lynched by drug traders, caught in a drug bust and starting a fight in captivity, only to be released with help from his military school major- when he becomes relevant to the plot.
  • From Season 2 onwards, most of the scenes in Kyle XY which do not concern the eponymous protagonist or the central plot-line can come across as this. When Kyle is frequently being hunted down by a Mega Corp. and developing his mental abilities, it can seem a little strange when he receives less screen time than the other main characters' love lives.
  • Maya and Alejandro Herrera on Heroes didn't even manage to be plot-relevant by hanging out with Sylar.
    • Though that was due to the writer's strike, which caused a lot of planned storylines to be truncated and several plot threads to be cut and forgotten (e.g. Caitlin). Maya was apparently supposed to be instrumental to dealing with the virus, among other things.
    • That season of Heroes is largely split into four completely un-interacting plotlines. Aside from the main, there's Maya and Alejandro; Bennet; Claire and West; and Monica and Micah. That season was so obviously unfinished that Tim Kring had to write a public apology.
    • That Peter's entirely pointless subplot where he was stuck in Ireland with no memory has not been mentioned before now, is a rather big hint at how utterly forgettable it was and how little relevance it had to the overarching story of the second series.
  • LOST has this sometimes, from little-importance Flash Backs to stupid subplots just to give some characters screentime (Sawyer crossing a jungle to kill a tree frog comes to mind). Part of the problem may have been that, when the series first started, it got a lot of praise for the flash backs as a storytelling device, so the writers felt like they had to shoehorn one into every episode.
    • Nobody cared how Jack got his tattoos. Not when there are bigger questions involving Smoke Monsters. Nobody except the writers, apparently, who weren't as willing as the audience to accept that they belong to the actor, not the character. So we got an entire episode of an origin story for Jack's tats.
    • Yes, Sayid is guilty of war crimes in the service of his nation. We got this in season 1. No really. While it's fun to see him tied up we did not need a whole episode of it.
    • Though largely avoided in seasons 4 and 5, there is one instance where this is used subversively. In any episode featuring Flash Forwards to Sun giving birth, there are concurrent flashes to Jin rushing to buy a toy and get to the hospital while avoiding comical setbacks. It's edited to make it seem, at first glance, like the two stories are concurrent; only at the end is it revealed that Jin's story was an irrelevant and inconsequential anecdote from many years earlier. His flashback was included specifically to mislead the viewer and disguise that, at the time of Sun giving birth, he had been left behind and is presumed dead.
    • To some fans, the flash-sideways. Sometimes (most blatantly in "Recon") they just recycled plot threads from years ago. They also, by the halfway point of the season, had yet to cross over with the main plots or have any clear relevance to them. Just one hint from the premiere that they mean anything. And they take up as much of each episode as flashbacks or flash-forwards did, while not resolving any questions or developing any characters outside of the ones in its own arc.
      • As shown in the series finale The 'flash sideways' was shown to be a kind of purgatory and the characters all met because they meant so much to one another and were destined to spend eternity together. So, while it could be considered a waste of time showing action that wasn't answering questions about the shows many mysteries, it was still important for the characters arcs.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Exploited in an A Day in the Limelight "The Zeppo" following Xander as he finds himself in a comical series of completely unrelated misadventures while his friends are off literally preventing the apocalypse and fighting the greatest battle of their lives. The episode title is a reference to Zeppo of The Marx Brothers, who was used as a foil for his more talented brothers.
  • Pretty much all of the Gibby only sub-plots in Season 4 of iCarly. One example being his attempt to get a $5 bill out of a tree.
  • In the final season of The Shield, there's a subplot about Sgt. Danny Sofer gradually losing her gung-ho desire to be a street cop, and wanting to settle down with a desk job and her new baby. This would ordinarily be a fine end to her character, but meanwhile Vic, Shane, Ronnie, and Aceveda are all busy scheming and manipulating international drug cartels, federal law enforcement, and each other to escape their fates. It comes off as incredibly small-time by comparison.
  • Kate from Robin Hood had several of these. She was always getting captured or injured, but special notice has to be made of the episode Something Worth Fighting For. In it, Isabella manages to plant one half of a broken locket in Robin's belongings, leading Kate to believe that Robin is cheating on her. She bursts into tears and runs back to her mother, wangsting all the while about how she thought she loved him. No one cared. What makes this really grating is that this is the second to last episode of the entire series, and most of it is wasted on the Romantic Plot Tumour, to the point where a beloved character's death scene is completely short-changed. It's technically meant to be part of the general theme that the outlaws are being torn apart right before the big battle, but what the writers don't realize is that the outlaws are better off without Kate. When she does return after realizing that she's been tricked, she doesn't actually accomplish anything except sabotage a peaceful protest that Tuck and Little John are staging, and then stand around telling the more competent characters to "hurry up".
  • Sonsof Anarchy has this with Gemma (and, to a lesser extent, Tara) in Season 3. They into a series of largely self-contained misadventures that don't relate to the main plotline of the season, Abel's abduction.
  • The "New Cap City" storyline of Caprica was accused of this, being less interesting than other plotlines that were stalled at the time and home to some strange Fridge Logic as well. However, some interesting ideas were introduced- such as "New Cap City" being a Black Box of unknown purpose- and Tamara and Joseph received significant Character Development. It may prove to have been significant later on.
  • The Bryce-Keiko subplot on FlashForward. Although it had one or two heartwarming moments, the bottom line was that it was a subplot about the main character's estranged wife's coworker (who also has terminal cancer, which is rarely mentioned) and his futile search for the Girl Of His Dreams who lives in Japan, but then she leaves to find him, and they continue to have a series of near-misses in LA, eventually leading to Bryce having a relationship with the main character's daughter's babysitter while Keiko works in an auto shop and then gets arrested by the INS. Then in the season finale, they finally meet, at the exact moment prophesied by the flashforwards, meaning they needn't have bothered spending months looking for each other. And then the show got cancelled. The subplot is clearly an artifact of a version of the show with a more widespread, interconnected cast a la Lost and a less-focused plot. Except that it sticks out like a sore thumb when it was the only unconnected subplot, while the rest of the show was about the FBI investigation and related conspiracies.
  • In Dexter's fourth and fifth seasons, Angel Batista and Maria LaGuerta's romance has absolutely nothing to do with the show's main arc, and many viewers find the banality overwhelming. The same goes for Deb and Quinn's romance in Season 5 and 6, which mostly just distracted from Deb's own development.
    • Season 8 was particularly criticized for this, with subplots focusing on Quinn's (failed) attempts at becoming a Sergeant and an odd amount of time spent on Masuka's daughter.
  • In Chuck especially in the later seasons any Buy More employees subplot is at serious risk of falling into this. While sometimes they tie back to the main plot in an interesting manner or manage to stand on their own, often they're just there, because the show's always been set in Buy More and so they have to have Buy More subplots. One example is that week's Greta being stalked by Jeff and Lester. Morgan tells them off, they don't stop, she threatens them, Morgan has to intervene, she tells him that their operation is unprofessional. Casey steps in to defend Morgan, giving their relationship a tiny bit of development that could have been gained by any other method, and she leaves. Jeff and Lester's behavior doesn't affect the main characters. Greta's presence has nothing to do with the main plot.
  • True Blood's third season suffers a bit from this with many characters being disconnected from the main plot and having nothing to do and even more infuriating is that at the end of the season none of the subplots are tied up in the slightest and seemingly hinting at new Mountain Lion traps for the future including Andy's sudden dependence on V. Ultimately, by the beginning season 4, a few of these are revealed to have been subtle build up to the season's main plot. However, a few- namely the aforementioned V dependency, Sam's storyline involving his brother (which ultimately dove tails into an equally extraneous and yet to be resolved love triangle with his shifter girlfriend and her werewolf baby daddy) and Jason's subplot with werepanthers in Hot Shot- have all been resolved or dropped without ever really affecting the main plot in any meaningful way.
  • During Babylon 5, a recurring subplot in season 3 dealt with Dr Franklin's struggle with a stim addiction, and his quest to eventually find himself and pull himself together. Now there's nothing wrong with a bit of character development... if it weren't for the fact that this plot occurs at the crossroads of two major plotlines with galaxy-wide implications (The Shadow War and Babylon 5's secession from the Earth Alliance.). This particular arc felt rather minor and unimportant in the face of the others, and like a diversion from more important events.
  • In the fourth season finale of Merlin Morgana takes over Camelot (again) and proceeds to do absolutely nothing of importance. Having locked the knights in the dungeons, she forces Gwaine to fight her mercenaries for bread to feed his imprisoned friends, resulting in a completely plot-less sequence of scenes that add absolutely nothing to the more important activities that are occuring outside Camelot.
    • On the other hand, this is rather consistent about her characterisation after she became evil. On both occasions when Morgana manages to take over Camelot, it becomes quickly appearent that she's spent so much time devoted to scheming how to seize the throne, that she never stopped to realise she has utterly no idea what to do once she actually has it.
  • Arrow has Thea, Ollie's Canon Foreigner sister orrrrrrr is she? Her nickname "Speedy" seemed to just be a Shout-Out at first, but her full name proves to be Thea Dearden Queen. While she interacts with the rest of the cast more than such examples, her appearances are usually scenes having nothing to do with the rest of the story, in which she gets bailed out of something by Ollie and then gives him a speech that basically amounts to "My lifestyle is all your fault for having been trapped on a deserted island for years, then having the gall to have a life outside me once you got back." She's getting some Character Development and working alongside Laurel now, so it seems she's getting better. However the arrival of Roy Harper makes it seem she still won't be joining in her bro's line of work any time soon.
  • There are a couple of episodes of House ("Wilson" and "5 to 9") where the focus is on a member of the supporting cast. We occasionally see The Team in isolated snippets where the episode's viewpoint character happens across them, usually doing something nonsensical and potentially lethal to a patient, with the implication being that this is what all House's cases look like to people who aren't on The Team.
  • The episode of The Worst Witch "Monkey Business" has the caretaker Mr Blossom trying to deal with fungus growing in the castle using some kind of extreme spray. This plot point is not relevant to any other part of the episode. While he does foreshadow that Enid has brought a monkey to school, it is Mildred who lets it out and Mr Blossom has nothing to do with anything else in the episode.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Danerys' subplot is so distant from the primary action of the series that in many ways it seems like a completely separate show. Precisely one character has appeared both in her subplot (which is on another continent altogether) and the rest of the story. It's still overall liked, but still feels disjointed. Such is the fate of the third storyline.
    • Theon's subplot in season 3, in which he simply pops into several episodes to be tortured some more, with no forward progress being made until the season finale, and even then it doesn't involve Theon himself at all, but his sister. This came about because Theon doesn't feature at all in the third book of the source material, which was adapted into two seasons, and the actor couldn't be left hanging for all that time. The actual events shown are loosely based on Theon's flashbacks in the fifth books, and because the show has a strict 'no flashbacks' rule they decided to show the events in real time. While in the book the flashbacks allowed the author to simply come back to Theon two books later as a changed man, the show writers decided the audience needed to see what happened to Theon to explain his transformation when he re-entered the plot in Season 4.
  • On Power Rangers, Bulk and Skull's antics could sometimes feel this way - while the Power Rangers are fighting the Monster of the Week, they're doing something completely separate from the plot. For example, in the four-parter "Ninja Quest," the Power Rangers are searching for new powers and fighting the new villain Rito Revolto, while Bulk and Skull are training with the Angel Gove junior police department. Other times, they were busy trying to find out the identities of the Power Rangers, engaging in antics that never even brought them close to the Rangers. Mostly, they were pretty transparently just there for comic relief, though.
  • Invoked and ultimately subverted in Breaking Bad by Skyler's affair with Ted. At first, it seems like just an escape, between having to hide the truth about the situation from Junior, Hank and Marie, and dealing with Walt's increasingly erratic behavior. And then she gives Ted all of Walt's money...
  • Doctor Who was forced to use a lot of Padding in earlier seasons, a lot of which can come off as this:
    • "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" has a filler episode which, instead of focusing on Barbara's plan to destroy the Daleks, mostly followed Susan making her way through a sewer pipe and getting attacked by alligators played by some rather ropey stock footage, and Ian fighting a rather unconvincing rubber suit monster which is supposedly a Dalek pet, comes from nowhere and is never seen again (especially annoying when what makes Daleks so effective is that they have never looked like people in rubber suits).
    • The early Peter Davison stories occasionally suffered from this. Having populated the TARDIS with the trio of Adric, Nyssa and Tegan, it was obvious that most of the script authors then struggled to find useful things for these people to do. Adric perhaps came out worse out of this situation, changing from a mathematical genius when first introduced the season before to one that spent large amounts of most episodes assaulting a buffet table.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, this is part of the divisiveness among fans about the character of Vic Fontaine, a sentient hologram that takes the form of a 60's Vegas lounge singer. With the Dominion War and the fate of the entire galaxy and trillions of people resting on the main character's shoulders, many fans found themselves increasingly frustrated with how often the important War arc would be diverted into a pointless subplot involving Vic, often just to have him sing a swing number; twelve of them, in full, over less than two seasons, to be precise. This was also particularly jarring as characters began to frequent Vic's lounge more than Quark's bar, the real bar that they would have had to pass through in order to get into the holosuite.
  • In Royal Pains, Evan is not a doctor, and thus each episode usually has him doing something that is completely unrelated to the episode at hand. In earlier seasons, sometimes these subplots involved him wooing some new potential client for HankMed, and sometimes whoever he was interacting with would require medical attention from Hank and/or Divya. But ever since he married Paige, their subplots have usually involved their constant marital issues.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering's Weatherlight Saga has a couple of these:
    • Prophecy. Smack-bang in the middle of the Saga (Which is, as a reminder, an epic story about the crew of the flying ship Weatherlight who travel to another world to rescue their captain and end up defending their world from an Alien Invasion), we get a set and accompanying novel about the Keldons invading Jamuraa. It does involve a few characters from the Saga, but they proceed to do almost nothing for the entire novel.
    • The rise of the primevals in Planeshift. How much impact does the rise of five ancient dragon gods have on the main storyline? Just enough to be defeated after a single battle, after which they are never heard from again.
  • Everyone in Warhammer 40,000. And that's not just a jab at the franchise being a Cosmic Horror Story. The "main plot" that will decide the future of the galaxy is Abaddon's 13th Black Crusade to destroy Terra and conquer the galaxy in the name of Chaos, but Games Workshop has absolutely no intention of actually resolving that story, ever. As such, everything that the players can do with their minis, as well as almost all the stories in the army supplements, are taking place right as the Black Crusade is being put together, but will almost certainly have no impact on it (at least, not directly). This has intrigued many fans and pissed off just as many.

  • The Shriners ballet in Bye Bye Birdie.
  • "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" from The King and I is a Show Within a Show that runs on for 15 minutes, with only An Aesop near the end linking it to the plot. The ballet music is unmelodic and represents more the work of an arranger than of Richard Rodgers.
  • Lots of musicals, and some stage plays, have numbers and/or scenes that exist mainly to fill time while a complex costume/scenery change happens, or possibly because a well-known hoofer/singer is doing a role that's essentially just a glorified cameo but her contract requires (or the audience will be disappointed if she doesn't get) at least three dance/musical numbers.

  • Invoked in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja a few times, such as the incident where dinosaur Yoshi steals ape receptionist Judy's hotdogs, while the Doctor is getting killed as part of a plot to conquer the US.
  • Vaarsuvius preemptively takes steps to avoid being Trapped By Mountain Lions in this Order of the Stick strip.
    Kubota: My trial will last a few weeks, at most, and when it is over Hinjo will look like an out-of touch buffoon for even bringing up charges against me — a beloved pillar of the community — while his people waste away at sea. Now, come along. Bring me before your master so that we may begin the Trial of the Century.
    Elan: Yeah, well, we'll see what they believe. The Katos and I will testify against you and then—
    Vaarsuvius: Disintegrate. Gust of Wind. Now can we PLEASE resume saving the world?

    Video Games 
  • In Katamari Damacy there are cutscenes in between every few levels and after you create a new constellation when some Lego-looking kids comment on the stars being gone/coming slowly back. It has no bearing on what little plot there is, especially since nobody listens to them anyway.
    • They do, however, contribute to the overall weirditude of the game. Since this is Katamari Damacy we're talking about, that may actually count.
  • Rose, the Stop Helping Me! girlfriend from Metal Gear Solid 2, won't stop calling and insisting on talking about her relationship with Raiden. Even though he's, you know, in the middle of a highly-dangerous mission all by himself.
    • The entire plot of the game is an elaborate set-up to give Raiden irreperable psychological trauma (and thus make him the ultimate killing machine?). She's part of that...uhh, we think.
  • Because the students got seperated when they were pulled into the evil Heavenly Host school in Corpse Party, there were multiple sub-plots as each chapter focused on different characters. Most of these involved trying to find a way out, dodging sadistic ghosts, getting possessed, being brutually murdered ... and in the case of Satoshi and Yuka, trying to find a working toilet so she could go potty. It dragged on for a ridiculous amount of time, tracking down various toilets only to move on because they were damaged, blocked by gaping holes in the floor, or full of hanged girls, to the point that any normal person would have just peed in the corner and be done with it. It got worse when it tied into a 'Find Yuka' sub-plot, simply because they got seperated when she tried peeing outside (and she still didn't end up doing it).
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) suffers from this, as Sonic is attempting to rescue Princess Elise, who never stays put, Shadow and Silver are actually doing much more plot-critical activities, such as attempting to figure out the identity of Mephiles the Dark and save the future.
  • The Blazblue series most definitely, particularly in the first game. Each cast member has their own story path, but only like 4-5 of them have anything to do with the overall plot. The sequels handle this slightly better by intersecting the plots of the many characters and giving the lesser ones more focus, but overall a lot of the plot points may be discarded and never elaborated on. The third game's kind of egregious as they only focused on those 'that have anything to do with the main plot', leaving a lot of characters in the dust and their plot hanging, and worse according to fans, these includes most of the newcomers.
  • Very much subverted within Mass Effect 2. The main story revolves around going for a Suicide Mission into the lair of the Collectors. But a bunch of the gameplay revolves around each party members' personal issues, coined as 'Loyalty Mission', such as Miranda worrying of the safety of her sister, or Garrus' grudge against a traitor that costed him his team. None of them has anything to do with the main plot. However, if you treat them like some insignificant side-missions and want to just focus on the 'main, most important mission'... well, the party members who are not loyal will end up performing sub-par (because the unresolved problems still linger in their head), possibly killing them or even someone else (and in the worst case, making the mission end in a Pyrrhic Victory with Shepard perishing too). In other words, this game encourages you to deal with those trapped by mountain lions instead of ignoring them, or you'll be punished for it.

    Western Animation 
  • Season 3 of The Animals of Farthing Wood devoted a lot of time to the pointless antics of Weasel, Measley and their children after they leave White Deer Park and cause all sorts of trouble on a farm.
  • In the first episode of a Family Guy three-parter, Stewie sees a man on TV and becomes convinced that he's Stewie's real father and, as such, sets out on a cross-country trip with Brian and Quagmire to find him. Oh, and Lois is teaching Chris about how to appeal to women. That subplot, however, is dropped by the second episode.
    • Debatable if it was really dropped, as the type of girl she tells him to go after is the type of girl Vanessa is. It's still not important, as it still only affects another subplot that no longer exists, but it was there.
  • In the Generator Rex episode "Breach", in which Rex awakes in a creepy abandoned town and must figure out where he is and how to get back to headquarters, Six and Bobo are Trapped By Scorpions.

Alternative Title(s):

Ridiculously Distant Subplot