"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results."
This trope is when a plot point, story element, character arc, or relationship arc is methodically taken apart, reset back to something resembling the status quo ante, and advanced over and over again. It can seem like the writers realize that they cannot successfully take a series past its basic premise, so rather than provide any long-term resolutions or adapt the plot, they keep putting the characters back where they were before and forcing them to learn the same lessons
, go through the same Unresolved Sexual Tension
, or fight the same Tournament Arc
that they did last season.
This is distinct from Negative Continuity
in that in the latter there is no expectation that the series' plot will advance. The Yo Yo Plot Point occurs within continuity and is frequently all the more glaring for that fact. After all, there are only so many times that the same relationship can break up or the same character can attempt to go to college before it gets silly.
The Yo Yo Plot Point can be an Enforced Trope
in a popular series that is intended for a very specific demographic (e.g. True Love Is Boring
to the target audience of Shōnen
, so romantic plot points tend to remain permanently unresolved). In this case, watch out for Creator Backlash
or a continually rotating stable of writers. Related, when a series changes writers, sometimes the new folks want to revisit plot points from previous arcs and deliberately reset their predecessors' work. If it happens over and over again, it can seem like this trope to the audience.
This trope is not about plot points that get dragged out long past when they should have been resolved
, but about plot points that are resolved, and then un-resolved, repeatedly. Post Script Season
is related, but typically happens only once. See also: Status Quo Is God
, Failure Is the Only Option
, Sequel Reset
, Heel-Face Revolving Door
, Relationship Revolving Door
, Aesop Amnesia
, Once an Episode
. Joker Immunity
and Cardboard Prison
are related, employed so that villains may be defeated many times over.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- A common complaint with Ah! My Goddess was that the relationship between Keiichi and Belldandy progressed at a snail's pace, largely due to this trope. Their relationship would seem to be moving forward, and then something would put it right back to square one. Whether it be some godly threat to the heavens and Earth, or one of Belldandy's fellow gods deciding to keep Keiichi away from her, it seemed like the universe just didn't want them to be together. The manga began in 1988, and when it ended over twenty-five years later in 2014, the relationship between the two main characters had barely progressed beyond what wasn't snapped back.
- Ken Akamatsu, writer of Love Hina, should really have known when to cut a long story short. Most readers figured out pretty quickly just who Keitaro's "promise girl" was, and the plot itself answered the question in the 10th of 14 volumes. So throwing in umpteen further "complications" to spin out the romantic tension ("Is she really the Promise Girl?!!") for its 14-volume run wasn't really effective, especially since he and Naru outright admit that they no longer care if she really is the girl in volume 12 and finally kiss. The same thing happened with Keitaro's TokyoU career: he was accepted after the second year of the story, but in order to keep the protagonist's educational prospects as a source of tension, Akamatsu had a large bell fall on top of him, preventing him from taking up his place there, though it did result in him taking a level in badass in the meantime. Considering that Akamatsu is obviously a Rumiko Takahashi fan, we should be thankful that he ended the manga after 14 volumes instead of 45.
- Kira and Rei of MARS are supposed to be "rescued" by each other's love. However, pairing them up early in the story just won't provide the Wangst-fuel for fifteen volumes, so the comfort and stability (and Character Development) they create for each other is constantly tested via Expansion Pack Past. The result is that they seesaw between "well-adjusted individuals" and "pair of head cases" as each trauma comes to light, with the unaffected partner having to rescue the victim all over again. With Kira in particular, the pattern started veering away from tragic and towards ridiculous, and issue upon issue was heaped on her. By the end of the story, there doesn't seem to have been a torment that she hasn't suffered.
- Poor Sora of Kaleido Star is a living yoyo: no matter how hard she works, no matter how spectacular a performance she turns in, at the end of each Kaleido Stage production she falls back to the bottom of the pecking order and has to work her way up all over again. It's only at the end of Season One that she's acknowledged as the true prima donna of the stage... whereupon the show got a sequel, and a Post Script Season saw her "star" status usurped yet again.
- Early in the run of Marmalade Boy, protagonists Miki and Yuu find their slowly-developing love to be threatened by new characters, love triangles, and typical rom-com misunderstandings. Fortunately, love wins out, and they remain together in the end. This happens again. And again. And keeps happening. It seems that you simply cannot add another new character or event to the story without having Yuu and Miki (especially Miki) question the other's already-proven affection. A few episodes before the end of the anime Miki herself admits that she's tired of the constant doubt and worrying and calls off the whole relationship. This is later resolved, but you can't help but agree with her.
- In InuYasha while the romances are definitely of the Will They or Won't They? variety, the true culprit is the main plot of killing Naraku. They get close, then he escapes. InuYasha gets a new attack that makes it possible for him to kill Naraku. Naraku levels up and defeats it. Rinse and repeat for way too long.
- This plagues the elongated conclusion of the 4th World War arc in Naruto. At this point, most readers have lost count of how many times during the climactic battle Naruto's allies have come to doubt their usefulness, then overcome their doubt by resolving to do their best regardless, then soon fell prey again to that same doubt; how many times the Big Bad has wavered towards doubt in his philosophy, then back to absolute faith in it and trying to make Naruto doubt his philosophy, and then back again; how many times, conversely, Naruto himself has felt the need to go through a revelation of why his ideals are worth believing in and fighting for, prompted by him relating to his possibly-Love Interest, Action Dad and Rival Turned Evil each in turn, only for his resolve to soon waver enough that another revelation is in order; and how many reveals of either the good guys' or bad guys' seemingly unbeatable "True Power" there have been, only for that power to be beaten soundly, trumped and superseded, followed by ominous hints of the next Ultimate Power That Will Surely Decide Everything.
- Super Gals has Aya Hoshino, Rei Otohata and their romantic situation. Aya has fallen into depression over being "A stupid little mole" and been dragged out due to Otohata being an aloof Jerkass who's defrost cycle is apparently being done by fanning him with an even bigger block of ice more times than one can count and this keeps going FAR into the series, with the fallout from her uncertainty having lasting effects all the way to the LAST EPISODE OF THE ANIME! The manga isn't much better; Aya overreacts to everything and lacks self-confidence the entire time she seems to be dating him, even going so far as to say it's okay to flat out be told that Otohata had fallen for Ran and then crying cause she's "screwing things up herself". Thankfully, she seems to stop caring around Volume 9 and seems confident enough to finally stand by his side in the 10th Volume.
- Rogue and Gambit are notorious for this. Even more so than Scott and Jean, writers seem to have a dislike for giving them any kind of stable love life. Several issues were promoted as "the one where Rogue and Gambit finally get together!" but any long-term reader will realize that this will only last ten comics at best before they split up again, for increasingly ridiculous reasons. And then the chase will start all over again. Gambit lampshades this in X-Men Legacy, explaining to Rogue that he doesn't even get jealous anymore because she'll always end up back with him eventually.
- Professor X has an autistic son - David Haller, a.k.a Legion - with tons of superpowers and multiple personalities, some of which are evil. He's too unstable to be a superhero, so when he turns up it's almost always in the position of "villain-who's-really-a-victim". But he's basically a good kid, so every time he goes berserk he has to have a mental breakdown first. And since he's a sympathetic character, his stories have to end with him "finally getting the help he needs." In other words, virtually every David Haller story is: Legion has a relapse/Legion goes on a rampage/Legion is subdued/Legion is cured. Wash, rinse, repeat.
- Spider-Man moving out of Aunt May's place, publicly revealing his secret identity, and most of all getting married. Attempts to backpedal on any or all of these have been disastrous. And this is all alongside someone deciding they want to put their "once and for all" stamp on Gwen Stacy's clone(s) (which would be three or four since the mid-90s).
- Batman has been put through the wringer with his allies, friends and the Bat-Family — sometimes in multi-month, multi-title events — and came out of them promising to be less of a jerk to everyone. It never sticks.
- Main plot of Strangers in Paradise is lengthy will-they-won't-they relationship, and so are several main subplots. That reasons for this yoyoing are more realistic than in other examples doesn't help, because they go back and forth just too many times. One plot that isn't romantic features organization "The Big Six" repeatedly pursuing the main character. Each time the story resolves with the leader of "Big Six" dead and the organization seemingly dismantled, or at least promising to leave main characters alone. However, each time it soon turns out that "The Big Six" still exists and one of ex-minions, now promoted into the big boss, decided to continue pursuing the main character for various reasons.
- The Martian Manhunter is ridiculously powerful, his only vulnerability is fire, and unlike most superheroes with weaknesses his origin doesn't contain a particularly good reason why he's vulnerable to fire. Those facts combine to ensure that every time a new writer gets a hold of him, they come up with the "real" reason he's vulnerable to fire and (since they usually decide it was all in his head the whole time) usually have him overcome it for good. Again. Until next time.
- The Scarlet Witch has had a mental breakdown, wreaked havoc with her ill-defined, nigh-omnipotent powers, and then returned to her senses at least three times.
- Fantastic Four has a few stock plot points that tend to repeatedly cycle. A) Johnny learns to act mature, B) Ben learns to accept his appearance, and C) Reed learns to appreciate his family and not shut them out. They can usually be relied to forget these lessons whenever the book changes writers.
- Raven of Teen Titans seemed to have found peace after she defeated her father in "The Terror Of Trigon" arc, but she wound up infected by his influence again in the early '90s. After her corrupted body was destroyed, she seemed to be free of evil (even if she was stuck in a golden spirit form). Flash forward to Teen Titans volume 3 and on, where the resurrected Raven had to fear being corrupted yet again by her father, who was inexplicably resurrected himself in Judd Winick's run of "Titans". The plot point of Raven going missing and having to be found or rescued was also recycled twice within volume 3. In the New 52 reboot, Raven's back to trying to fight her father's influence. Writers also seemed to constantly recycle the "will they or won't they?" question about her relationship with Beast Boy, seeming to settle on the two getting together before everything was rendered moot by Flashpoint.
- Hey everybody! Harvey Dent's been cured and he's Two-Face no more! Oh, wait, no, he got afoul of an exploding safe (Two-Face Strikes Again!)/ driven even more insane (The Dark Knight Returns) / framed for a series of vigilante murderers (Batman: Face the Face)/ his fiancee killed by her psycho twin sister (Two of a Kind, featured in Batman: Black and White)...and he's back to Cartoonish Supervillainy. False alarm. Sorry guys.
- A frequent criticism by detractors of X-23 is either a lack of personality, or that almost every one of her personal arcs involves her trying to learn to be more than just a weapon. Unfortunately, every time she does learn those lessons and begins to develop as a character (New X-Men and her solo series in particular), editorial comes along to beat her senseless with the Reset Button and start the whole process over again.
- Every damn time that Cassie gets a point-of-view novel in the series, she has to reconcile her pacifist morality with waging war against the Yeerks. It never takes.
- Ax's "Am I an Andalite or an Animorph first?" dilemma.
- Visser Three is defeated! And comes back. But he's defeated again! And comes back. He's Reassigned to Antarctica! And... you get the idea. As The Pop Arena put it: "Visser Three is there, Visser Three is always there."
- Harry Potter: Harry is loved by all, Harry is despised and ostracized. Specifically, separate events in years 1, 2, 4, and 5 tarnish the attitude of Hogwarts students toward their local celebrity, but his reputation is usually fixed by the end. (In year 7 he becomes "Undesirable Number 1" after the bad guys take over the government and the school, but it's not as clear what the general opinion of him is.)
- Zoey's Unwanted Harem problems in The House of Night. The first couple of books had her being torn among her boyfriend Erik, her jock ex-boyfriend Heath, and poetry teacher Loren. Chosen resolved the love polygon, albeit in an abrupt and contrived way that brought into question Zoey's intelligence, by having Erik leave Zoey after she slept with Loren which severed her blood-based connection with Heath and then Loren turned out to be working for the Big Bad all along and was killed off at the end of the book with the clear message that Zoey had learned her lesson and would work hard to repair her broken relationship with Erik. But then Hunted brings Zoey's Unwanted Harem right back with her renewing her blood-based connection with Heath thanks to a contrived "you need to drink his blood or else he'll die" situation (and making their connection even stronger than it was before) and getting a Replacement Love Interest for Loren in the form of Stark. To top all this off, Erik is derailed into a possessive jerk to justify why Zoey is suddenly going back on her earlier vow to stick to just him, and she proceeds to repeat the "woe is me, I'm a ho for being unable to choose between three hot guys" indecisiveness/wangst from Betrayed and Chosen all over again. Tempted appears to try resolving at least one factor of this love issue for good by killing Heath off, only for Burned to reveal that he's not so dead after all and Zoey proclaims her love for him, even though she's still stringing Stark and Erik along.
- The Bloody Jack novels have this in a bad way. Since Book Two, every single book has Jackie wind up in trouble with the law, be separated from her "true love", Jaimy, land in some kind of Attempted Rape / Virgin Tension scene, and flirt and make out with at least one attractive young man (or, on occasion, an attractive young woman). Usually, by the end of the book, the troubles are sorted out and Jackie and Jaimy are/are on the brink of being reunited—and then a new problem tears them apart.
Live Action TV
- Gilmore Girls: This proved to be a huge problem in the latter seasons with Lorelai and Luke. After five years of will they or won't they, Lorelai proposed to Luke at the beginning of season 6 and he accepted. Instead of dealing with the myriad other potential plots the show had going on at the time (namely, the fallout from Lorelai and Rory's estrangement), a long lost daughter was introduced who literally served no purpose other than to break up Luke and Lorelai and send Lorelai into a quickie marriage with old flame Christopher which in turn served no purpose other than pushing Lorelai and Luke getting together "for good" back to the series finale.
- Soap Operas - thanks to their never ending nature, decades on the air, and poor quality of writers at the helm of most - suffer greatly from this. True, it was never uncommon for super couples to get divorced and remarried several times over. However, it seems like these couples divorce and remarry each four or five times over the course of ten years. Problem is, the things that break the couples up in the first place are never addressed or rectified. It's usually some variation on Your Cheating Heart, however.
- On General Hospital Carly Benson and Sonny Corinthos have been married... and divorced... four times in the past decade.
- Ross and Rachel got together and split up multiple times over the course of Friends.
- How I Met Your Mother:
- Ted and Robin's relationship. The first episode ends by saying she's not the mother, the first season ends with them getting together, they break up, they relapse, they wind up living together, have a Friends with Benefits thing going on for a bit, she dates Ted's best friend Barney for a while, then Ted realizes he wants her back... a minor theme of seasons 6 and 7 has been the strain of Robin being best friends with two of her most serious exes, with hints that there's still something between her and Ted. This seems to be solved for good, as Robin and Barney are confirmed to be married and the series will be ending soon. And then in the finale it turns out Robin and Barney don't work out, and it being strongly implied Ted and Robin finally get together for good six years after the Mother's death.
- Robin's dissatisfaction with her career in Season 4. There was a pattern of Robin hating her current news reporter job, quitting it, discovering a supposedly-awesome job...and the cycle repeats with that job apparently being terrible too.
- Marshall's career follows a similar trend. Get a job doing environmental law, decide to go into soulless, corporate law for the money instead, get fed up and quit. Repeat. This happened in season 1 (turning down an internship with the NRDC for one at Altrucell), season 3 (turning down a job at the NRDC for one at a soulless law firm, then quitting), season 4 (giving in and getting a job at GNB, quitting), season 6 (get an internship at the NRDC, quitting to find something that pays more), and season 9 (getting a judgeship, turning it down to go to Italy and winds up going into soulless corporate law).
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- Buffy had a She's Back moment once a season, minimum, usually in the final episode. Every time she "accepts" being The Chosen One, you just know she's going to backslide.
- Xander and Anya are in love and having sex on a constant basis, then Xander proposes, they spend the entire sixth season whinging and moaning about it, then Xander leaves her at the altar, Anya goes back to being a vengeance-obsessed demon, and by season seven, they're back to having sex, and Anya commenting about it in her awkward manner.
- Xander regularly has episodes in which he would come into his own, demonstrate that years of facing eldritch dangers without superpowers implied something about his competence and courage, and put his Butt Monkey status behind him. ("The Zeppo", "Graduation Day", "The Replacement", etc.) It never lasted, though he managed to go back in that direction in the Season Eight and Nine comics.
- The Scoobies are keeping secrets from each other, which causes problems that just escalate and distract them from the Arc Villain, until they eventually talk it out and learn to trust each other, with a lesson about The Power of Friendship. They would do this every single season.
- Lois and Clark:
- The title characters were married twice before they finally married for real. (To the point where the actual marriage episode was entitled "Swear to God, This Time We're Not Kidding.") At least one of the marriages involved the Frog eating clone of Lois Lane. Yeah...
- Earlier in the series, before Lois knew that Clark was Superman, the scenario came up repeatedly in which Lois would bring up something important to their relationship, and every single time, at the worst possible moment, Clark would have to become Superman and perform some rescue, which made it seem like he was blowing her off and avoiding the subject.
- LOST's love triangle between Jack, Kate, and Sawyer. Kate just keeps bouncing between those two guys like a ping pong ball well into the fourth season. Lampshaded when she leaves Sawyer for Jack yet again, and Sawyer doesn't react at all, telling her to her face that he knows within a few days she'll have found some reason to get mad at Jack again and come back to him. Later after Jack and Kate get off the island, their engagement ends when it's revealed that Kate has been covertly fulfilling some promise to Sawyer, even though he got left behind.
- In its short time on the air, even Firefly had one of these: The status of Simon and River on Serenity. Were they crew, or were they passengers? It fluctuated wildly from episode to episode, and even into The Movie.
- In Grey's Anatomy, the whole Meredith/Dr McDreamy thing - they're together, then she wants him but he doesn't want her (although he secretly does), then he wants her but she isn't sure whether she wants him or not.
- Each of JD's (very short) relationships mirrors the last one, contrasted by just about any other main character, all of whom go through some serious Character Development over the course of the series.
- The number of times JD and Elliot get together, then break up, then... well, you know the drill. There was a joke in the first 3 seasons that JD and Elliot have sex again once every year. This was dropped after their 3rd breakup, though it was revisited at the end of season 7. When they finally got back together, Jordan lampshades this and says that after 7 years no one cared about it anymore.
- Cole and his tendency to go in and out of the Heel-Face Revolving Door.
- Paige is the most gung-ho about magic...except when she's having yet another subplot about trying to have a life outside of it. Also, how many times has she had to accept her Whitelighter heritage and help charges?
- Phoebe realizes that she had stopped believing in love, but this new Temporary Love Interest helped her rediscover it; even though things didn't work out, she'll go forward confident that she'll find love again. And she will, because this repeats itself about half a dozen times over the series.
- Leo can't be with Piper because he's a Whitelighter...but then he becomes human so that he can! But then he becomes a Whitelighter again. But they hook up anyway! But now he can't be with her because he's an Elder. So he'll become human again! Oy.
- Prue, Phoebe and Piper each had an episode where they interacted with the Angel of Death and had to accept that some people couldn't be saved. Actually, Piper had two (and both wound up being Broken Aesops, since she does save Paige and Leo, respectively).
- The cycle is as follows: Sam (or Dean) has an issue but won't talk about it. Dean (or Sam) knows something is wrong and keeps pushing Sam (or Dean) on it, only to be frozen out. Tension builds. Sam (or Dean) keeps secrets. Dean (or Sam) finds out about them. Finally there is a huge fight and Sam (or Dean) walks out. An episode follows where the two of them are seen going their separate ways. Then they realize the importance of family and get back together, and the cycle is renewed. And the original issue that caused the whole thing never actually gets addressed.
- There always has to be something wrong with Sam. It started with his Psychic Powers in the first couple seasons, then his increasingly Jerk Ass behavior in the third season. In the fourth and fifth seasons, his drinking demon blood and the effects it had on him. In the sixth season, he was a Soulless Shell for the first half and had his Hell-wall for the second half. In the seventh season, he had the fallout from the Hell-wall coming down (mostly limited to hallucinations of Lucifer). In the eighth season he started getting sick as part of his trials to close the gates of Hell. And in the ninth season, he is tricked into allowing the angel Ezekiel to possess him. Most of the time these events are only marginally connected to the main plot, and most were either solved with a Deus ex Machina or just quietly forgotten about once the arc was over.
- Nip/Tuck: lives on this trope in the later seasons. Characters from previous seasons whose plot threads seem to have been resolved are brought back in with the magic words "Previously On Nip/Tuck."
- Claire's relationship with her adoptive father and her power. In the first season it was believable, but every damn season it's like she just found out she can heal and has a secret agent as a father. By the time she reconciles with the fact, it's time for her to start freaking out again.
- SYLAR'S DEATH. Apparently killed in Volume One. Recovers from his fatal chest wound in Volume Two, but without his powers. Then gets his powers back. Then, in Volume Three, steals Claire's power and becomes immortal - but aha! All powers get switched off during the eclipse, so he finally dies then - but, whoops, as soon as the eclipse is over his dead and decomposing body heals itself and he returns to full strength. He gets killed at the end of Volume Three, because his power can't save him when you stab him in the back of the head and drop a burning building on hi - oh no wait, according to Volume Four, it can. Then he gets effectively 'killed' at the end of Volume Four when his mind is erased and replaced with the mind of Nathan Petrelli. Volume Five rolls around, and this is promptly retconned to his mind being still alive inside Matt Parkman's head - and then he takes Parkman over and even eventually gets his own body back. So Parkman traps him down and does the next best thing to killing him - imprisons him inside a personal Hell and bricks him up in a basement. This lasts maybe all of an episode before Peter Petrelli breaks him back out. Luckily, as part of the Heel-Face Revolving Door thing the show seems to love so much, he turns out to have repented while unconscious, and was last seen alive and well, again, but now a good guy.
- The Chase and Cameron relationship. They sleep together, nothing happens, they start sleeping together regularly, Chase decides he has feelings, Cameron rejects him repeatedly, they finally start dating, move in together, get married... then get divorced. Seemingly finally resolved as they wrote Jennifer Morrison out of the show (almost) entirely.
- House's Vicodin addiction has him beat it them relapse over and over. Surprising many fans, after his stint in a psychiatric hospital House managed to go the entirety of Season 6 without going back to Vicodin, even right up to the last moment of the season finale when he chooses Cuddy over pills. This comes after repeated failures in this area over the course of the series, and his repeated Off The Wagon moments are a pretty realistic depiction of drug addiction and relapse.
- For a long time, this was the best way to describe House and Cuddy's relationship. They would get together, break up, sleep together, decide to be Friends with Benefits, actually become an Official Couple again, break up, and repeat. The cycle was broken eventually; House and Cuddy broke up (again), and decided they were Better as Friends.
- Queer as Folk: Brian and Justin's relationship is a bit like this, as they break up and get together again about once a season. Of course, being Brian and Justin, it's never quite resolved even when they are together.
- Party of Five:
- Charlie and Kirsten have a Will They or Won't They? thing going on in season 1, they get together, he cheats on her and they split up until reconciling near the end of the season. They plan to get married in season 2, Kirsten leaves him at the altar and they get back together in the season finale. In season 3 they split up due to her depression and she ends up marrying someone else. That husband leaves in season 5 and they reunite again. Thankfully the first episode of season 6 is their wedding and the drama is finally resolved.
- Julia and Griffin. She cheats on Justin with him, eventually getting together until he goes off to military school, then gets back with Justin but they split by the end of season 2. At the start of season 3 she starts right back up with Griffin but then they go through more relationship drama in season 4 and split up again. Then seasons 5 and 6 have a regular thing of her getting jealous whenever he shows interest in another girl.
- Star Trek:
- Star Trek: The Original Series: Thanks to multiple writers and a poorly fleshed-out character background, Spock's ability to lie and lack of emotions tended to bounce around from episode to episode, with some of them determining that his emotions were always on the verge of constantly boiling over and others treating him as an automaton with a physical inability to tell a fib. The writers attempted to resolve this long-running subplot in the Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan, where it is fully established that Spock has embraced his human side just in time to make a Heroic Sacrifice at the end of the movie, cleaning and wrapping up his Character Arc... And then they brought him back in the next film and it turns out he has forgotten everything he learned.
- The rest of the series were even worse about this. While The Original Series and The Next Generation often portrayed Vulcans as cracking jokes (deadpan, of course) and, though keeping to logic, experiencing and understanding emotions (though of course this varied within the show), Tuvok would never joke, would say he had no emotions and often said he had never experienced emotions. This last part was contradicted when the writers decided he'd had a bout of emotionality as a boy and had to be taught how to control them.
- Averted in Frasier: after seven years of Will They or Won't They?, Niles and Daphne finally got together in the season 7 finale. However, in the beginning of season 8 it looked like the writers were gonna use various plot elements (mainly Niles' ex-wife Maris) to stop them from actually being together. Thankfully, though, these issues were resolved in a handful of episodes, and the writers managed to integrate Niles' and Daphne's relationship into the series for its final four seasons.
- On Boy Meets World, Cory and Topanga have three major breakup arcs after they first officially get together at the start of season three, and two of those arcs happen after their relationship was retconned into being life-long true love.
- On Glee, Rachel and Finn are supposed to be the Official Couple, but they've fought and broken up and gotten together again numerous times, and are generally much less stable and mature than almost any other couple on the show.
- Mad Men: Don Draper's Dick Whitman past comes back to haunt him in some way once a season. However, in a case of Tropes Are Tools, the recurring nature of the Dick Whitman problem makes perfect sense. Truly facing and dealing with this landmine secret (stealing another man's identity to commit desertion during wartime) would likely destroy the life he built for himself, a tall order for anyone and especially someone with Don's inclination to run when things get tough.
- Veronica Mars in everything pertaining to the title character's various love interests, and most of all her on-again-off-again relationship with Logan, which induces half of the yo-yo-ing in her other relationships to begin with. The two of them go through a constant cycle of fake-outs, second thoughts, setbacks, deal-breakers, revelations and reconciliation, spanning the entire series from act 3 of season 1 going forward. There's a reason this show reruns on the Soap Opera Network.
- On Smash, the person that will play Marilyn Monroe in the Show Within a Show Marilyn: The Musical (later Bombshell) kept flip-flopping from episode to episode, in fact within episodes sometimes. First Ivy, then Karen, then Ivy again, then Karen, then Rebecca, finally Karen. Halfway through season 2 it flips to Ivy again.
- The Big Bang Theory: Leonard and Penny have been through a few breakups and keep running into the same exact same problems in their relationship. Most of time it's due to Penny feeling insecure due to her and Leonard being too different (particularly their different levels of intellect) and her being afraid of committing.
- Desperate Housewives: Mike and Susan get together, break up, get married... after a Time Skip they've broken up.
- Doctor Who:
- In the original series, the ability of the Doctor to control his TARDIS ended up as this. He traveled randomly as Hartnell and Troughton, then got exiled to Earth as Jon Pertwee during which he could travel willingly in a normal manner, with the exception of occasionally getting sent against his will to some nasty planet by the Time Lords for whatever reason. Then his TARDIS travel was restored and he was given direct control over it, though his actual piloting skills remained terrible and he often ended up in the wrong place. The Fourth Doctor gained full control over the TARDIS via his discovery that the 'secondary console room' was much easier to fly with, spent a couple of seasons with it under full control (with bad piloting), and then installed a 'randomiser' to help him avoid a godlike being that wanted him dead, forcing him back into random travel. The Fifth Doctor was back to direct control with bad piloting, and during the Sixth Doctor's tenure it was even revealed the First and Second Doctor's travel wasn't random but directed by the Time Lords. The Seventh Doctor onwards have been pretty good at flying the TARDIS, under full control and capable of pulling off precision maneuvers, and the tendency to pilot it wrong and end up in the wrong place became severely downplayed (though still fairly common).
- Every so often ("The Face of Evil", "The Ribos Operation", "Scream of the Shalka", "Rose", "Smith and Jones" through to "Gridlock", the Series 4 specials, "The Snowmen", to name just a few) the Doctor decides not to take on companions anymore, because he'll end up ruining their lives. It never sticks. (The new series comes up with some interesting justifications for this.)
- The reboot series introduced the running theme of the Doctor's fears that he'll become just as bad as his enemies, and the moral ambiguity of wiping out the Monster of the Week, which would be introduced and resolved nearly every season. It reached the point that when a season eight episode rehashed the whole "the Doctor's hatred of the Daleks makes him Not So Different" thing, it copied almost verbatim a line from the season one episode that started that theme in the first place.
- Crichton and Aeryn's relationship on Farscape. First Crichton is the pursuer, and various issues (Aeryn's own hangups due to her Peacekeeper upbringing, Scorpius, Aeryn dying and coming back to life due to a Heroic Sacrifice, then Crichton dying for good, but at the same time still being around) keep hitting the reset button of their relationship despite their clear feelings for one another. And then in season four it gets reversed, with Aeryn actively pursuing Crichton, while Crichton tries to distance himself (mainly due to fears of Scorpius hurting her to get to him). They variously hook up, get together and breakup several times through all the insanity, before it's finally resolved in the final third of season 4.
- Chuck: Chuck and Sarah's relationship. It's clear from the beginning there's mutual attraction between them, but Chuck's poor self-esteem and Sarah's own relationship issues are just the beginning of their Will They or Won't They? troubles. The reset button on their relationship is smacked hard repeatedly throughout the first two and a half seasons as they get closer only for one or the other to decide they need to back off, Sarah because her feelings for Chuck make it harder to do her job, Chuck because Bryce convinces him Sarah's feelings for him will get her killed. The destruction of the second Intersect at the beginning of season 2 forces them to put their attempt to start a relationship on hold when Sarah has to go back to work protecting him. In the penultimate episode of season 2 it appears Chuck and Sarah will finally get together. And then Chuck downloads Intersect 2.0 and decides to be a spy, leading to a much-derided return to the Will They/Won't They tango (particularly with the introduction of Shaw as Chuck's rival for Sarah's affections) before they finally get together for real midway through the third season. And then Sarah gets Brainwashed and Crazy in the series finale, wiping out all five years of the series. It's strongly implied they stay together at the end and Sarah's memory hasn't been completely destroyed, but needless to say fans weren't pleased by yet another smack of the reset button.
- Early seasons of Stargate SG-1 repeatedly have the cast pontificating at each other over the morality of interfering in alien societies, especially if that society has some shiny tech or resource the characters want, which ends seemingly resolved only to pop up again later. Eventually the writers dropped it entirely, the characters concluding that while they'll save people from the Goa'uld or problems they caused themselves, they'd otherwise leave people to do their own thing.
- On Awkward., Jenna and Matty's relationship. Although they haven't been officially together since season 2, their relationship keeps going through the same stages: Jenna/Matty realizes they're still in love. However, one of them is beginning to be involved with someone else. They briefly flirt with getting back together. Jenna then does something to mess it up. The other party ends up breaking up with the other person. Repeat next season.
- In the original run of BIONICLE, three times in as many years, the Toa learn to work together as a team, and Tahu and Kopaka go through several cycles of hating each other and gaining each other's respect.
- After being a Cosmic Plaything so long, one would think that Kratos from God of War would learn to not trust any god who tells him to do something. And yet, he always goes along with the machinations and whims of one of the gods of Olympus or the titans who claim to be on his side, and acts surprised when they inevitably turn on him. Kratos then swears vengeance against the gods and that he'll never trust them again, only to completely forget about this come the next game. It's only in the Grand Finale of the series, God of War III, that Kratos finally seems to wise up.
- Metroid games almost always start with you having A Taste of Power. Then something happens, like it always does, causing you to lose everything. You spend roughly the next 80% of the entire game getting your gear back. It was a minor miracle when Metroid Prime 3 didn't do this, though it doesn't explain where all those other fancy gadgets went.
- The relations of the Alliance and the Horde. They're at war? Not anymore. Oh wait, now they're fighting again... And here comes the next excuse for them to ally with each other!
- The Orcs' placement on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Ever since they pulled a huge Heel-Face Turn in Warcraft III, they've kind of fluctuated between being brutal barbarians fighting for a good cause and a race of Noble Savages.
- If one Forsaken pets a dog, someone else is bound to poison it afterwards.
- Metal Gear forces its main characters into Aesop Amnesia due to its very medium. The series deals with themes of war and being controlled by others, and most games end with the hero realising this and denouncing the battlefield, and/or flinging off his metaphorical chains to forge his own path. The trouble is that it's impossible to have a war-themed video game character do this and still have a fun war-themed video game. Hideo Kojima is clearly aware of the inherent irony to the premise, but attempts to avert it (such as replacing the main character with a new character) tend to be found unsatisfying by fans, and so it is just dealt with as a part of the setting, even getting Played for Drama quite often. Snake is not happy about constantly being dragged back into things, with his PTSD getting worse with each game he's in, and Big Boss gets so disillusioned with his constant failures to reform that he outright becomes a villain.
- The Land Before Time: Just how many times does Petrie have to overcome his fear of heights?
- The Simpsons: Marge tiring of Homer and considering leaving him. In The Simpsons Movie Marge does leave Homer after being unable to put up with his selfishness, ignorance, and shenanigans, and naturally they reconcile at the end.
- Rick and Morty: Jerry & Beth's marriage troubles.
- King of the Hill in regards to Bobby being accepted by Hank despite his eccentricities. They would repeatedly find something to bond over, only for the next episode to have them again not seeing eye to eye. The Grand Finale contains such a plot, but its frequent use in earlier episodes removes the sense of closure from the episode.
- Total Drama is chock full of it, especially when it comes to character development. Things that seem to get resolved as many times as the writers need them to include Heather's Defrosting Ice Queen progress, Gwen and Trent's relationship and later the Courtney-Duncan-Gwen love triangle (possibly resolved at the end of "World Tour" but unclear), Lindsay becoming less of a ditz, Bridgette and Geoff's relationship, Cody's unhealthy crush on Gwen, and constant fluctuations between disdain and respect for Sierra. Duncan and Courtney's relationship is a particularly bad case: After spending half of Season 1 in Will They or Won't They?, the season ends with them (somewhat) happily together. Then Season 2 comes along and Courtney breaks up with Duncan, but they get back together in the finale. Then they break up again in the reunion special only for them to get back together in the same freaking episode.
- The Swan Princess and its sequels all have Odette turned into a swan in some way.
- Nearly every episode of The Fairly OddParents has Timmy making a stupid and/or selfish wish and learning he shouldn't make stupid and/or selfish wishes. Somewhat justified in that he's an idiot.
- Finn's love life on Adventure Time. While his romance arc has taken various twists and turns, his affections have been mostly split between Princess Bubblegum and the Flame Princess. Even when events portray him as either getting over PB or breaking up with Flame Princess, a future episode will still show him trying to get with them, while they remain disinterested.