Follow TV Tropes

Following

All Just A Dream / Live-Action TV

Go To

Stories that were just dreams on live-action TV.


  • Not even Hispanic Soap Operas escape from this trope. There has been at least two soapies who ended with the implication that all the chapters we've seen has been just a Dream: Los Amores de Anita Pe? and Pecados Ajenos. However, the results were very different:
    • In Los Amores..., which was a comedic soap that swung between the Affectionate Parody and the Deconstruction, the whole thing was played for laughs, with the ghost characters of the people who died during the story lampshading the Twist Ending and openly decrying it in a full rupture of the Fourth Wall. However, the series gives not only a whole chapter after the reveal to close the few loose plots and point out the parallelisms between the "dream story" and the "real life", but also gives a happy ending for the heroine and the story: maybe her life isn't as exciting as it was in her "dream", but she is now truly happy with her son and her beloved husband.
    • Advertisement:
    • In contrast, in Pecados Ajenos (who was non-comedic and pretty gloomy for a traditional soap) not content with using this trope to reset the whole story, also used the reset to put the heroine in a worse condition than the one she began with. It also left unpunished some of the worst villains of the story (a big no-no in traditional Hispanic soaps), and leaves the unsavory feeling that all the grisly, tragic and creepy things that happened during the soap are going to happen in the same way. Naturally, none of the viewers were happy with this.

  • In an episode of The 4400, main character Tom dreams of a world where the 4400 abductions never happened. As it turns out at the end, the "dream" was actually a power of one of the 4400, whose alternate reality powers allowed him to have an eight-year relationship with her in an extremely short time, allowing them to know everything about each other despite only meeting once.
  • Advertisement:
  • Spoofed in the final episode of Ace of Cakes after building a giant cake replica of the BTTF Delorean, the final scene has Duff noticing the lights in the flux capacitor are on the fritz so he opens it up and messes with the wires, next scene he wakes up at his job at a factory, turns to Geoff and tells him about the weird dream he had "where you and I worked at a cake shop making all sorts of weird cakes".
  • MTV Europe's edition of Alternative Nation did this at the end of a special Blur episode. It had host Toby Amies interviewing Damon and Alex in a fancy car, with a skit added at the end revealing everything to be Toby's dream.
  • An episode of A.N.T. Farm features a past version of Zoltan Grundy traveling to the present day causing both the present Zoltan and the boarding school to fade out of existence. Chyna was forced to be the young Zoltan's prom date to save her friends from non-existence. Fortunately, it is revealed that the entire episode was Chyna's dream.
  • Advertisement:
  • Apocalypse: Steven's initial thoughts when he wakes up in his room at the end of the experiment. It was only after he meets Derren in the living room that he was told the truth about the experiment.
  • The first season finale of Army Wives has a crazed man setting off a bomb in a bar that includes Claudia Joy and daughter Amanda. Much of the second season premiere shows the women at Amanda's college, both okay. It turns out that Amanda died and this is Claudia Joy's mind giving her a chance to say goodbye as she recovers in her own hospital bed.
  • Austin and Ally:
    • In the episode "Eggs & Extraterrestrials", the gang encounters real Zaliens at a Zalien convention who tried to abduct Austin and Ally as musical slaves. Fortunately, it turns out Dez dreamt the entire episode.
    • Also in "Future Songs & Festivals", Austin wakes up in a Bad Future where everything is plain white and music is nothing but weird noises that people "dance" to by shaking their heads as if they have water in their ears while nobody remembers how to use musical instruments. Fortunately, this was all Austin's dream.
    • Not a dream, but the episode "Writers & Fiction" was all Dez's short story.
  • Awake mixes this with Or Was It a Dream?, and dual realities as its main premise.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003): At the beginning of "Collaborators" Adama, Tigh and Roslin are telling Dr. Baltar that they forgive his actions on New Caprica. It's only when Roslin adds that she finds him desirable that a suddenly terrified Baltar realizes he's still in deep shit. Sure enough, he then wakes up on a Cylon baseship. Few episodes later, in "Taking a Break From All Your Worries", Baltar tries to hang himself and wakes up in a Resurrection tank surrounded by Sixes. As he expresses relief at the revelation, the Sixes start scratching around his throat upon which it he regains consciousness to a marine performing CPR or him.
  • Best Friends Whenever: It's debatable that the events of "When Shelby Met Cyd" may have not actually happened because the epilogue shows Barry being surrounded by Shelby and Cyd and their younger selves as they keep chanting "Thankyou Barry". He then wakes up and sees Naldo again with Shelby and Cyd's younger selves. It then appears to be Naldo's dream as he wakes up in the yard.
  • In Blackadder (season 3, 2nd episode) Blackadder dreams that he overslept and Dr. Johnson is arriving, whose dictionary has been burned. Then, Dr. Johnson suddenly confesses that he never liked the dictionary anyways, then things get really surreal as his aunt suddenly appears, Baldrick shows up in a dog's mask, and everybody starts dancing. Blackadder then realizes that that "it's a bloody dream!"... and then he really wakes up, he has overslept, the book is still burned, and Dr. Johnson is arriving.
  • Bones. The Season 4 finale seemed to take place in an alternate universe where everyone worked in a nightclub called "The Lab" and Booth and Bones were married. Then, at the end of the episode, it turns out that it was just a dream Booth was having while he was in a coma. And this was after weeks of promotions that they were actually going to have sex. "We promise this time it's for real, not a dream sequence or anything." Right...
  • The Boy Meets World episode where the characters get trapped in a slasher movie scenario is actually a dream Shawn has while sleeping through detention.
  • The alternate ending to Breaking Bad (as seen on DVD) played this completely for laughs. In it, Walter White's death plays out the same as it does in the actual finale, but then Hal from Malcolm in the Middle wakes up, having dreamed the whole series. He then tells Lois about his terrifying dream where he was a world-class meth cook with a shaved head (to which Lois laughs at the idea of him cooking anything), he was married to a beautiful blonde (which causes Lois to laugh even harder), there was this guy who "was my brother or something. He looked like the guy from The Shield", and there was this kid who said "the b-word" a lot.
  • British surreal comedy series The Brittas Empire concluded with the revelation that the entirety of the program, all 53 episodes, had been a dream. The title character had fallen asleep while on the train to the interview for the job that he'd had throughout the series. The other people in the dream (apart from his wife, who was the same in the dream and in real life) were actually people on the train with him, and he projected them into the dream.
  • Buffyverse:
  • El Chavo del ocho: When El Chavo, La Chilindrina and Kiko enter Doña Clotilde's (a.k.a. the Witch of the 71) apartment they see the classic hag inside a horror house. It turns out to be all just a dream and Doña Clotilde was actually bringing them candy pallets.
  • Most events of the China Beach season 3 finale episode "Strange Brew" may have been a shared dream (after Colleen McMurphy and KC Koloski fall asleep on the helipad), a dream within a dream (as Colleen wakes up on the helipad at the end... only to then seem to wake up AGAIN in her bunk) or just a long, strange trip, since much of the show WAS set in The '60s.
  • Community:
    • In a fake clip-show episode, the group takes Abed to a psychiatrist who eventually reveals that Greendale, the community college they were recently expelled from, was actually a shared delusion they all had in an insane asylum, and the fact that they think it's real means they're all relapsing. There were even clips of them in the asylum playing out scenes from the show. It doesn't take long for them to realize he's lying, and when cornered he admits to being an actor hired by Chang to keep them from trying to go back to the college.
      Jeff: How long did you expect this to work?
      Annie: I'm wearing a Greendale backpack!
    • Played again in the fourth season finale when Abed reveals to Jeff that the battle with their darkest timeline counterparts took place entirely within his imagination.
  • The Cosby Show did a number of these, normally precipitated by Cliff's consumption of a large sandwich near bedtime.
  • The second failed resurrection of Crossroadsnote , a British Soap Opera, ended by revealing the entire series had been the dream of a supermarket worker. Whether the first resurrection was just a dream as well is up to viewer interpretation.
    • The closing scenes show a number of characters who made their debut in the first resurrection also working in the supermarket... except the character having the dream didn't appear until the second resurrection. (Maybe the first resurrection was one of the other workers' dreams, explaining why none of the cliffhangers were resolved?) And just as you're getting your head around that, a customer at the supermarket, who looks like another character who's been around since the first resurrection, is identified as "Tracey from Crossroads" by the staff. Um... huh?
  • The CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode "Working Stiffs" ends with a scene of the culprit blowing up a safe, collecting its contents, and successfully slipping past the encircling cops through a basement tunnel ... only for the scene to rewind to the moment the safe's door blew off, to reveal that the door had actually cut the man in half and left him pinned to the wall, hallucinating that he'd succeeded in his dying moments.
  • A segment on The Daily Show featured Steve Carell's greatest fears (including Stephen Colbert taking over the show), leading to him waking up in terror — next to Jon Stewart.
  • Dallas infamously undid a season this way. Patrick Duffy left the show, and they had his character Bobby hit by a car and killed. After the ratings started to sink, and Duffy came back, the writers retconned the entire season as a dream by Pam, causing several continuity snarls and messing up the Spin-Off, Knots Landing, where it referenced Bobby's death in the story line. There's even more to this: Producer Leonard Katzman was kicked off the show at the same time Patrick Duffy left, only to be brought back at the cast's demand. Katzman hated a lot of stuff that was done to the show in his absence (primarily making the women much stronger characters), and so thought of a way to ensure they never happened.
  • Dark Angel:
    • The Halloween Episode started fairly normal, then became progressively more wacky until the end revealed it was All Just a Dream.
    • In the season 1 finale, Max dreams that she and Logan finally get it on. But in the middle of it all, a crow caws and blood appears on Logan's hand. Max asks desperately what's happening, then it's revealed the young clone of her who shot at her earlier didn't miss and instead shot her in the heart, leading her to die, until Zack shoots his own brains out to donate a heart for her.
  • Day By Day has a variation: Ross gets an F on a history paper as a result of watching a The Brady Bunch marathon; he falls asleep while writing a new paper, and dreams he is Chuck Brady, their long-lost son. Soon he gets advice from Mike and Carol and repeats their dialog, which causes him to wake up; upon waking up he hears his parents come down and finds that they are Carol and Mike Brady. Then he wakes up again, only to find that his parents are back to normal, making this a case of a dream within a dream.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The entirety of Season 23 is revealed in "The Ultimate Foe" to have been an inaccurate reconstruction of what really happened. Of particular note, it turns out that the death of the Doctor's companion Peri in "Mindwarp" never really happened and instead she is happily living with King Yrcanos (despite the fact that he seems to be violently insane, though that may just be more Matrix tampering).
    • The 30th anniversary special/EastEnders crossover "Dimensions in Time" was revealed to be a nightmare of the Seventh Doctor in the expanded universe, although this was mostly done to explain the Canon Discontinuity.
    • "Silence in the Library" inverts it. A little girl on what looks like present-day Earth dreams of a futuristic library in which several people (including the Doctor and Donna) are in danger. Her psychiatrist tells her confidentially (in a complete reversal of expectations) that her dream is real and that the people in danger need her help.
    • "Amy's Choice": While it's obvious from the very beginning that at least one of the worlds is a dream, both turn out to be dreams and the last scene is the only one that actually happens. However, Amy realizing that she does, in fact, love Rory is NOT Reset Button-ed, so it's all okay.
    • "Last Christmas": The monster of the hour feeds on minds and creates dream states — plunging Clara, the Doctor, and the rest of the characters into multiple dreams within dreams within dreams.
  • In Dollhouse, the events in the Attic. That does not make it any better. You'll forever be trapped in an endless loop of your worst fear, unlikely to ever wake up. All the while the Rossum Corporation is using your mind as a giant computer for their own ends. Even worse; one of the co-founders of Rossum dreams of an oncoming apocalypse, and he knows it almost 100% certain to become reality.
  • Everwood's first season ends with a cliffhanger: Andy operates on Colin, and the very last scene is him entering the waiting room and everybody standing up to learn if the surgery was successful or not. Season two begins with everybody having fun at the pool (including Colin), giving the impression things had been fine. Suddenly, we realize it was only Amy's day-dreaming during Colin's funeral.
  • Frasier.
    • Played twice in one episode. The first one has Frasier return to his radio show after an illness where Niles filled in for him. The dream ends when he's killed by an exploding control panel. The second one has him trying to take over the show while dazed on cold medication and making a fool of himself. After he wakes up, Martin and Daphne comfort him by invoking the trope. On their way out, they subvert the trope when Martin whispers to Daphne "When are we going to tell him it actually happened?"
    • When Frasier meets a supermodel-zoologist on an airplane, he comments that "This is usually the part where I wake up." Cut to Frasier opening his eyes - and the camera panning out for a Bedmate Reveal.
  • Freddy's Nightmares overused this to the point of inverting it. The trope was so ridiculously commonplace that the real twist was when an episode didn't turn out to be just some random character's dream/hallucination/daydream/Dying Dream.
  • Friends:
    • In-universe example: Phoebe gets pissed off at one of her friends for something that is eventually revealed to have happened in her dream.
    • There's a sequence of Rachel asking Joey to kiss her, which turns out to be just a dream (to the surprise [and in some cases relief] of both the character and the audience). Curiously, that marked the beginning of her crush on him, which would be a key plot in the late 9th and early 10th seasons.
  • A similar case happened with Gilmore Girls: Luke and Lorelai had a lot of UST but nothing had happened between them during the first years of the show. The first episode of season three begins with them already in a relationship and expecting a child; then she wakes up. Throughout the season, nothing happens between them, until at the very end when he's packing to go on a trip with his girlfriend and Lorelai comes in and asks him not to go. Then he wakes up.
  • The Golden Girls' "Mrs. George Devereaux", wherein Blanche's husband George comes Back from the Dead, confesses that he faked his death to escape being framed for embezzling from his company and begs Blanche for another chance, and Dorothy is wooed by Lyle Waggoner and Sonny Bono. Blanche apparently has this same dream, or variations on it, periodically, mentioning that every time it happened before, she always woke up before she could hug him.
  • The opening episode of Season 5 of Grey's Anatomy: Meredith, who finally concluded that she definitely wanted to be with Derek in the last season's finale, learns that Derek is severely injured in a car accident, and arrives at the hospital just in time to see him die. But come on, nobody actually believed that the second most important character (or the third, depending on your view) of the show would be killed off minutes into the beginning of a new season, did they?
  • Growing Pains had two episodes featuring this. In "This is Your Life" (season 3, episode 10), Ben is afraid to get a tonsillectomy. So, he sneaks out after getting anesthesia, only to find that he's been replaced, since he didn't get the procedure done. Luckily, this was an anesthesia-induced dream. In "Meet the Seavers" (season 6, episode 21), Ben gets in trouble, and wishes that he lived in a TV show, because then he wouldn't be in trouble. He wakes up the next morning to find that he is Jeremy Miller on a show called Meet the Seavers. This is a nightmare for him, as his family isn't a family anymore, and his house isn't his home. He wakes up to find that it was all just a dream.
  • Hannah Montana:
    • Jackson and Lilly end up dating after Miley tries to sabotage it. At the very end, despite it being a fairly normal story line and not all that much changing, it still turns out to be a dream.
    • The road trip episode where Miley and Jack were zapped back to the past and created a Grandfather Paradox was dreamt up by Miley when she nearly got hit by a bolt of lightning and was out cold.
    • An alternate ending to the show revealed that the entire show was all just the fantasy world of 11-year-old Miley Cyrus (played by a different actor).
  • Happy Days somehow managed to Spin-Off Mork & Mindy from an All Just a Dream episode. Though That Was Not a Dream as shown by Mork's presence at the end of the episode, where he told his contact on Ork that he tricked "the human (Richie Cunningham)" to think he had been dreaming. Mork also visited in a subsequent episode during the run of Mork and Mindy to tell Richie that he was living on Earth in "the future" (i.e. The '70s when Mork & Mindy took place, and when both Happy Days and Mork and Mindy were made and first aired).
    • The episode "They Call It Potsie Love" had Joanie—who had developed a crush on Potsie—falling asleep and dreaming she marries him.
  • House: There's nearly always a quick way to tell that House is dreaming. If he limps, then it's sad reality. If he doesn't, then it's a dream or a hallucination.
    • In Season 1 there's a scene where House told Vogler, whose whole role was making House miserable, that he had Princesse and was going to die soon. The fact that Vogler calmly and gratefully accepted the news, even when House made a crack about jumbo-sized coffins, as well as the fact that House was walking without a limp, quickly revealed the scene to be a dream.
    • An episode (the season two finale "No Reason") was "All Just A Hallucination", and the episode ends minutes after its beginning. Still, the fact that it was a hallucination meant that it served as an exploration of House's mental state (rather than an excuse to kick the audience in the teeth at the end), which may be why this episode is not derided in the way that so many All Just a Dream episodes are. Also, House discovering it was a hallucination was an important part of the plot and set up moments into the hallucination, so it was in accordance with the rules of fair play. Furthermore, House uses an idea from his hallucination in real life that shows its effects throughout the next few episodes.
    • Similarly, the end of the season five finale "Both Sides Now" reveals that the sequence in the previous episode where Cuddy helped House detox and then has sex with him was also just a hallucination.
      Hallucination Amber: So... this is the story you made up about who you are. It's a nice one.
      Hallucination Kutner: Too bad it isn't true.
    • Another episode has House trying to kill a mosquito, but accidentally knocks off the valve to a propane tank and lights the stove. Cue explosion, cut to House waking up.
  • This happened in the final episode of I Dream of Jeannie. Dr. Bellows (finally!) finds out the truth about Jeannie, and then her bottle gets broken and Major Nelson resigns from NASA. Luckily, it's all a dream.
  • Jessie:
    • The series has the titular character dream a Ghostbusters parody episode.
    • In another episode, Ravi faints after being offered a trip to space on his birthday leading him to dream the entire adventure.
    • Mrs. Kipling also has a dream about the entire Ross family switching bodies.
    • Not exactly a dream, but the Bad Future episode "Jessie The Governator" was entirely made up by Ravi in an attempt to dissuade Luke from pulling his latest prank. It doesn't work.
  • Kamen Rider Ryuki's Hyper Battle Video ends with this. For good reason too, since the Kamen Riders were acting like a Sentai team and Ryuki wound up crossing over with Kamen Rider Agito to fight an Evil Twin. With those outlandish concepts, how could it not be a dream?
  • Craig Ferguson ended his final episode as host of The Late Late Show with this. His entire time hosting the show was all just a dream... of Nigel Wick, who wakes up in bed next to a still-fat Drew Carey and tells him all about his horrible dream where he had to host a late night talk show with a fake horse and a robot skeleton for 10 years, Drew became a game show host, and most frightening of all... Drew got skinny. Drew calms Wick down and they both go back to sleep. Then the camera pans over to the end table on Wick's side of the bed, showing a snow globe containing the talk show's set with said robot skeleton and fake horse. Also, since no All Just A Dream ending would be complete without a Newhart reference, the dream first started to unravel when Craig decided to ask who was actually in the horse costume, only to discover that it was Bob Newhart himself.
  • The last episode, "Home", of The Legend of Dick and Dom starts this way- the heroes return home in triumph from their quest, to acclaim and cheering crowds... and then it all turns a bit odd... and then they wake up, to find the Big Bad has stolen the MacGuffin and put them to sleep (and apparently given them a communal dream) to delay their pursuit.
  • Life on Mars (2006) makes use of this, both as (seemingly) the circumstances of the main character (in a coma, dreaming the entire thing), and side instances where Sam wakes up in bed after being harangued by the Evil Test Card Girl. In the end Sam's adventures in the past turn out to be just a dream. One Sam commits suicide to get back to... if you believe that interpretation of the ending instead of one of the dozens of others.
    • Something very similar occurs in Ashes to Ashes (2008).
    • The finale of the American version implies the entire series, including the 2008 sequences in the first episode, being the dream of an astronaut in hibernation on his way to Mars.
  • In one episode of Lost, Locke causes Boone to hallucinate that his step-sister/lover is being mutilated and killed by smearing goop on his head. Allegedly to teach Boone a lesson.
  • An episode of MacGyver (1985) in which the title character dreams of his lookalike ancestor ends with an Or Was It a Dream? moment when he woke to find he now possessed his ancestor's distinctive pocketknife.
  • Also done on MADtv. It begins with the children of an elderly couple shocked by their parents' dirty dancing and ends with Stephnie Weir waking up from a dream "about a skit that has no ending".
  • The Magicians episode "The World in the Walls" varied this by the dream being due to Magic.
  • There are quite a few in Married... with Children.
    • Nearly half of an entire season was made "just a dream", though justified as a case of Real Life Writes the Plot. The entire season had been built around Katey Sagal's pregnancy. She had a late and unexpected miscarriage and couldn't deal with having a newborn baby on the set.
    • Another One involves Al taking a job as a janitor for a Private Eye only to become one himself and solve a diamond case, getting a big fat check as reward. Status Quo Is God and it was just a dream of his (this one was the season-erasing resolution).
    • Another has Al making a deal with the Devil (Robert Englund) to lead a football team to the Super Bowl. He gets his wish but is killed in a tackle and taken to Hell where his family and friends also end up (as a result of improbable accidents after his death, oddly enough). After 300 years in Hell, Al can't take it anymore and challenges the Devil to a football match. The Devil picks some of the world's worst historical figures for his team. Al wins (even though given an offer to go back with beautiful women and loads of cash which, in a rare moment selflessness, he passes up). Al then wakes up back where he was before the Devil appeared and it appears to be a dream to him... least until he pulls out some Red Hots candy the Devil had given him.
  • Matlock had "Matlock's Bad, Bad, Bad Dream", in which the title character dreams of defending a '30s era club owner against charges of the murder of a club musician.
  • Most episodes of Medium begin this way. Annoyingly, a few end this way as well.
  • In the Monty Python's Flying Circus "Cycling Tour" sketch, a bicyclist (Mr. Pither) ends up in a Soviet prison cell about to be executed. He is suddenly woken up by his mother and says "So, it was all a dream!" His mother says "No dear, this is the dream, you're still in the cell." He then wakes up for real, still in the cell.
  • In the ABC Afterschool Special My Mother was Never a Kid, Victoria Martin gets into an argument with her mother, and runs away from home. While she is on the subway train, she hits her head and seemingly travels back in time to 1944, while she was there, she learns that she and her mother are very much alike in many ways, while still in the dream state she hits her head again, and wakes up back in the present with the relationship with her mother repaired. Considering Victoria clearly had no knowledge of the 1940s, this raises the question of how she could have dreamed up the period so accurately.
    • The special is adapted by Francine Pascal from her own Young Adult novel, Hanging Out With CiCi.
  • This trope's application in the Newhart episode "The Last Newhart" resulted in what is widely considered one of the best series finales, ever. In the end it was revealed that the entire show was a nightmare of Robert Hartley, the star of The Bob Newhart Show, also played by Bob Newhart. Interestingly, The Bob Newhart Show received a crossover from St. Elsewhere, which combined with the previous entry could make Newhart a Dream Within a Dream.
  • Night Visions: The pilot episode, "The Passenger List", ends with the main character, an airplane crash investigator, waking up onboard a plane. It turns out that various aspects from his dream were taken from his surroundings, such as a grieving woman in the dream looking like the passenger seated next to him, a book he found in a plane wreckage was actually one that someone else was reading, etc. Then the plane crashes for real and he and everyone onboard are killed.
  • Northern Exposure: Most episodes had dream sequences; " Joel et Jules" was an episode-length dream sequence.
  • Our Miss Brooks: The episodes "Magic Christmas Tree" and "Trying to Forget Mr. Boynton".
  • At the end of the fourth season of Oz, Tobias Beecher is up for parole. His lawyer enters the room and tells Beecher the Parole Board have approved his release. Everyone cheers as he returns to Em City, and a last minute assassination attempt by the Aryans is barely averted. Beecher is then shown walking out into the sunshine (showing the exterior of Oswald Prison for the first time) then playing with his daughter and new girlfriend in the park. Then he wakes up in his cell, and we flashback to his lawyer telling him that the Parole Board did not approve his release.
  • Person of Interest:
    • In the fifth season, a captured Shaw escapes the enemy and makes her way to New York. She reunites with the team and has a steamy hook-up with Root before killing bad guy Greer. She then realizes she's been broken by the enemy and kills Reese before putting the gun to her head...at which point, it turns out that this is the 6,741st simulation Shaw has been put through by Samaritan to get her to give up the location of the Machine and the team.
    • A later episode has Greer taking Shaw out for a tour of New York (under guard) to show her people who can be future dangers to the world. It all ends on a roof with explosions going across New York by a future terrorist plot that make Shaw realize she's in another simulation.
    • A stunning payoff to it all comes when Shaw is taken on another "trip" and shown a scientist who Greer says will create a deadly form of animal life that will kill millions. Tired of this, Shaw grabs a gun and shoots the woman dead. Back in her hospital bed, Shaw is shown footage of the scientist's death on the news and how her hand still has a scar from cutting it and realizes to her horror that it was no simulation, she really did murder an innocent woman.
    • When Shaw finally escapes for real, agent Lambert tries to tell her she's in another simulation. However, Shaw is now able to tell the difference, shooting Lambert dead and mocking him—"relax, it'll reboot any moment"—before escaping.
  • Power Rangers:
  • The Pretender had one where Broots and Miss Parker are on a stakeout. At first, they wake up to find themselves in bed with each other, having apparently had sex. Later in the episode, Broots manages to capture Jarod and plans to have him watch while he has sex with Parker again. Parker then asks how he feels about a threesome ... with Mr. Reigns. It's then revealed that Broots dozed off and the whole thing was a dream.
  • The Prisoner (2009): It turns out the Village is actually a sort of shared dreamspace on a level deeper than the subconscious. Which makes it all a dream, but not just a dream.
  • The Red Dwarf episode "Back to Reality" had the whole show as a computer game played by the main characters. This turned out to be a group hallucination.
  • Subverted in the Regenesis episode "Unbottled", where after the episode's shocking turn of events, the scene skips to David waking up at home and talking about his "crazy nightmare" with Rachel, who in the dream was killed by the terrorists who had taken over their lab and forced them at gunpoint to help them make a biological weapon. But then she reminds him that it really did happen, and disappears, and the next shot shows that he was in bed alone.
  • The season 1 finale of Reno 911! ended on a Cliffhanger, which was revealed in the season 2 premiere to be a dream, in what turned out to be a dream sequence itself Dangle wakes up from the dream, to discover himself in bed with Kenny Rogers. This turns out to be a dream Garcia is having in the meeting room at the sheriff's station.
  • Roseanne essentially ended the series with a version of this. Specifically, the last season was all a book written by Roseanne, as revealed in the epilogue of the last episode. Everything that happened in the book actually occurred, the only difference being Dan died of a heart attack instead of winning the lottery in the season premiere.
  • Several Round the Twist episodes ended this way, as a result of being adapted into a continuing series from standalone stories. A particularly odd example is "Santa Claws", which not only has Pete falling asleep in the first scene, thus establishing this right away, but features a Framing Device within the dream - Pete telling the story of how his mouth was shrunk.
  • One episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch has this ending, negating the revocation of her witch's license. A flying banana, witnessed in an earlier dream sequence, tipped her off.
    • Another episode has Sabrina invoking this trope on her (mortal) best friend that accidentally wonders into the Witch Realm because it’s the only way her friend is allowed to leave while also keeping the Witch Realm a secret.
  • Saturday Night Live:
    • A Wayne's World sketch starts with Wayne talking about a dream he had, then dissolves to the dream in typical Wayne's World fashion (wiggling their fingers and going "Do-da-loo! Do-da-loo!" during an actual dissolve). The dream is basically a Madonna music video in which Wayne makes out with Madonna while Garth dances in a skin-tight, black leotard. The sketch ends with them freaking out over an Or Was It a Dream? moment as Garth is still wearing the leotard after the dream/flashback ends.
    • The gag was recycled for a sketch where Wayne dreams that he's on Melrose Place and then wakes up wearing Heather Locklear's outfit.
    • A Saturday Night Live Digital Short parodied this. A woman has a frightening dream about a zombie, and then wakes up and sees it, which then turns out to be All Just a Dream for the ZOMBIE. This then happens numerous times, ending with a woman waking up from a horrible dream sleeping next to Dracula.
  • Much of the Scrubs episode "My Occurrence" is revealed to be one of JD's extended daydreams towards the end, with the shift occurring the moment he walked in to tell Dr. Cox and Ben the test results. JD's mind was playing tricks on him because he didn't want to face having to tell Dr. Cox's friend that he had leukemia.
  • Seinfeld:
    • Used drastically when, after Kramer persuades him to get an illegal cable hookup, Jerry dreams that he is graphically gunned down by the FBI. Then he wakes up and discovers the plane he's on is about to crash, which is real.
      "What have you done to my little cable boy?!?"
    • Elaine dreams about herself in bed with Jerry Kramer and George.
  • The Spanish comedy Los Serrano finished this way, with the main character waking up to discover the entire series has been all just a dream. Fans were not pleased. A critic saw it in a slightly different light: if all was just a dream, that means that the atrocious Boy Band that spun off from the series never existed at all.
  • Shake It Up!:
    • Flynn suspects his new neighbor is an alien and ends up abducted along with his best friend Henry Dillon, although this was a dream.
    • After accidentally hitting her head and falling unconscious, Cece has a whole-episode dream where she and Flynn switched bodies and Rocky was crazily trying to kill Ty.
  • Used in an episode of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World to great effect: Malone undertakes a storyteller ritual of the Zanga, and ends up trapped in a dreamworld of his creation.
  • In the episode "Virtual Slide" of the series Sliders Maggie Beckett has a dream within a dream. After Maggie is captured, she is put into a virtual reality that she recognizes as such almost immediately. Her captors segue this into a more realistic version where Maggie interacts with her friends, gives her captors information, and imagines a relationship with one of the men on her crew. Only when rescued does she realize that she never woke up from the first "dream."
  • Smallville:
    • The episode "Slumber" both uses and subverts this trope, as a girl with dream-walking powers can only contact Clark through dreams. Although occurrences in the episode were fantasy, the dreams do serve a purpose in the plot.
    • Used as a bit of a fake-out in "Promise", the Lana/Lex wedding. The episode begins with a ridiculously melodramatic wedding/murder/suicide scene, which is immediately revealed to be a dream Clark was suffering. The rest of the episode tells the story out of order chronologically, with a dream each for Lex and Lana, the former being fairly scary and the latter actually being a flashback to the Season Two premiere.
    • In "Labyrinth" Clark must awake from a scenario where he is an asylum patient, made to believe that everything he has been through was a paranoid delusion.
  • The Sopranos has a lot of these as a way to get into Tony's head, although it was made apparent to the audience what they were.
  • Space: 1999 episode "War Games" took full advantage of the trope with a spectacular battle leaving the Alphans facing a lingering death on their wrecked base. It turns out to be an alien-induced dream intended to show why the Alphans should not attempt contact. In this case there was no clue (besides the increasingly hopeless situation) that it was a dream prior to the application of the Reset Button.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • "Absolute Power" uses a dream that lasts most of the episode to show Daniel Jackson why getting access to the sum total of Goa'uld memory and technology would be a bad idea. In this case the viewers are given a fair chance to spot the point where events become a dream.
    • Another episode uses this to much greater effect with Teal'c switching between reality and a world that is obviously (to the viewer) a dream. The real, ascended Daniel Jackson appears to Teal'c in the dream world as a psychiatrist, and points him toward the solution. Both worlds are hallucinations brought on by Teal'c's mind in an attempt to help him survive a serious injury until rescue comes.
    • There's also "Forever in a Day", in which Amaunet (the Goa'uld controlling Daniel's wife, Sha're) attempts to kill Daniel with a Ribbon Device. But Sha're manages to send Daniel a message through it, resulting in him switching back-and-forth between realities; one in which Teal'c saved his life by killing her, the other where she's freed of Amaunet's control and living with Daniel on Earth, trying to convince him to return to Stargate Command (which he leaves in both message-realities). She tells him the importance of him finding the Harcesis (human child born of two Goa'uld-controlled human parents, containing the genetic memory of both) and where he can find him. The episode eventually ends with Teal'c saving Daniel's life by killing Sha're/Amaunet; the entire dream occurred in the space of time it took his sidearm to fall from his hands to the ground behind him.
    • In "The Other Guys", two of the behind-the-scenes scientists get mixed up in one of SG-1's adventures, rescuing the team, discovering that their captivity was part of a plan, having SG-1's plan go sour, and then rescuing them for real. They end up hailed as heroes, and one of them gets a kiss from Carter. Then the one who got kissed wakes up from his daydream.
      • "The Other Guys" is a fun episode, but a poor execution of the trope: Word of God here is that only the ceremony and kiss were a daydream, and that the producers realised too late that they'd implied the whole episode to be a dream.
  • Star Trek as a whole has the "All Just a Holodeck Simulation" version.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
    • In "Hard Time", Chief O'Brien is arrested by aliens and serves out a 20-year prison sentence within a dream that lasts only hours. The rest of the episode shows him dealing with this experience and how it has changed him.
    • "Far Beyond the Stars" and "Shadows and Symbols", where a science fiction writer in the 50's dreams about Deep Space Nine. It's also lampshaded in the dream when someone suggests making Benny's story turn out to be a dream to get around complaints about the hero being black. In fact, the producers toyed with the idea of making the entire series a figment of Benny Russell's imagination.
    • In "Inquisition", the investigator creates an elaborate holo-simulation that tries to trick Bashir into believing that he was a spy for the Dominion. Most of the episode occurs in the simulation.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation
    • In "The Inner Light", an alien artifact which turns out to be a monument to a long-dead race gives Picard the experience of living the life of one of its makers in less than an hour. In an unusual twist, Picard leaves the dream with at least one skill he didn't have before entering it — that of playing a recorder-like instrument his dream-self was fond of. Slightly different from most examples in that Picard starts off knowing that the experience isn't real, but it lasts so long for him that he forgets.
      • Unlike most of the examples on this page, this is usually considered one of the series' best episodes. This may be in part because it wasn't a Twist Ending but a framing device that was acknowledged periodically throughout the episode.
    • A slight variation of this happens to Commander Riker in "Frame of Mind". However, it's clear throughout the episode that he's hallucinating certain things, and when Riker finally comes to, he's on an operating table in an alien environment, which he escapes. He later learns he was captured and subjected to a brainwashing procedure; everything in that episode before that point was a hallucination.
  • Star Trek: Voyager:
    • Played with this trope a lot in "Barge of the Dead". B'Elanna Torres survives a shuttle accident, only to find it's all a dream and that she's actually on a barge taking dishonored souls to the Klingon afterlife.
      B'Elanna: But I was on Voyager with my crew!
      Klingon: That was the naj — the dream before dying. When we can't accept that we've died, we create the illusion of life to hold on to.
      B'Elanna: (seeing the helmsman, Kortar) He slaughtered my friends!
      Klingon: No. He slaughtered the dream. He dragged you from the illusion of life. This is where you belong.
    • After being rejected in favour of her mother, B'Elanna wakes up in Voyager's sickbay with the same hand injury she received on the Barge. She then has to convince her shipmates she didn't imagine the whole thing, and that she has to return to the Barge (i.e. recreate her near-death experience) in order to save her mother.
      B'Elanna: Look at this — The eleventh tome of Klavek. It's a story about Kahless returning from the dead still bearing a wound from the afterlife. A warning that what he experienced wasn't a dream. The same thing happened to me!
    • In "Nemesis", Chakotay was being brainwashed to hate the Kadrin through a simulation that depicted them as monsters. Everything that happened from his viewpoint, until Tuvok found him, never did.
    • Most of "Coda" is this for Janeway, courtesy of a series of alien-induced hallucinations.
  • The Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Vanishing Point" has Hoshi apparently fading out of existence due to a transporter malfunction before learning that the transporter has been hijacked by hostile aliens—and then she rematerializes on the ship. The whole thing was a hallucination caused by the actual (but non-fatal) transporter malfunction.
  • The last episode of St. Elsewhere reveals that the entire series has taken place in the mind of an autistic child. If you accept that crossovers between shows imply that they occupy the same fictional universe, an argument can be made that no fewer than 412 shows were figments of Tommy Westphall's imagination, including both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Doctor Who, along with their spin-offs. The aforementioned picture seems to have a very low threshold for calling a show a cross-over, however; it includes minor shout outs as linkage. Another crossover database site gives a more conservative estimate, which still results in nearly a hundred shows happening in young Tommy's mind.
  • In The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, it is implied that the Wish Upon a Star Disney Channel episode "Super Twins" was Zack's dream.
  • Or US Soap Operas. The soap Sunset Beach concluded with its two supercouples getting married in a double wedding, only to have the heroine wake up and have it revealed that the last two years (the duration of the soap) were a dream (complete with And You Were There)... only to have the trope played twice when she wakes up again to learn that this was a dream and that she and the hero are happily married rather than the turbulence of the past two years.
  • On Supernatural, Dean finds a djinn and makes a wish for a "normal" life. He suddenly finds himself in a world where their mother was never killed, their father spent time with them before dying of a heart attack, Sam is married and Dean is a baseball star. Dean is happy until he starts reading the news and discovers all the people the Winchesters should have saved were killed in gruesome accidents. He talks Sam into helping him track down the djinn and undoing the wish. However, Dean soon realizes that the djinn never had the power to create a new world or change history. Rather, he places his victims into a coma and gives them the dreams of their wishes as he feeds off of them. Dean is able to finally break through and wake up.
  • Super Sentai: Zig-zagged in Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger. First, we find out that the Rangers' battles were delusions, then the imaginary villains appear in the real world (the heroes also gain the ability to transform in the real world). The clincher? Nobuo Akagi (Akiba Red) realizes that their world is a TV show, which is being altered by the Toei production staff!
  • The first episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles starts out this way. Just so you know. Also, in the second season episode "Some Must Watch, While Some Must Sleep", Sarah is taken captive and interrogated by a man she had killed in an earlier episode. It is then revealed that this was in fact a dream, and that Sarah was admitted to a sleep clinic, because of her insomnia. She keeps having this dream, while she suspects something bad is going on at the sleep clinic. Eventually, we find out the sleep clinic was in fact the dream, induced by the drugs given to her by the man who abducted her, for real - him having survived the earlier episode against the odds.
  • The Twilight Zone:
    • In the episode "Where is Everybody?", a man in a flight suit can't find any inhabitants in a town that looks otherwise very much alive. It turns out He's hallucinating while in an isolation chamber testing the stresses of long solitary spaceflight
    • In TOS episode "Death Ship", an astronaut stranded on another planet dreams that he has returned to Earth and everything's all right. His commanding officer bodily enters his dream and drags him back to wakefulness. The Karmic Twist Ending? He and his commander are actually dead, and his dream was actually the afterlife he should have gone to.
    • In the episode "Shadow Play", a man on Death Row tells everyone they are all figments of his dream based on people from his life, and that when he's killed, he'll dream the same dream again, with everyone in different roles. As it turns out, he's right.
    • An even more sadistic episode — "The Midnight Sun" — turns out to be just a dream in the end. However, reality does not turn out to be much better than the dream. The protagonist dreams about a world in which the Earth is burning up as it's falling into the sun, and wakes up in a world that's freezing to death as the Earth is falling away from the sun.
    • The episode "Perchance to Dream" cranks this one up to eleven; it's about a man visiting a psychiatrist about nightmares, afraid the next one will kill him because of his weak heart, ultimately jumping out the window, then the reveal at the end... the whole thing from the point where he lied down in the shrink's couch was actually a dream, the conversation never actually happened, his fear came true, the dream had killed him.
    • Played with in "King Nine Will Never Return", about a pilot who visits his wrecked plane, one he was supposed to be in command of but for some last minute reason wasn't, revealed to be just a dream and he was at a nursing home the whole time. Only his boots were found to have sand in them.
    • Hinted at in "Valley of the Shadow", where the events of the episode are undone in the end—or, with the help of time travel, maybe they never happened?
  • UFO. The episode "Ordeal" has a lengthy sequence where Colonel Foster is violently abducted by aliens and taken to their UFO which is later (after various Shoot the Dog arguments between his superiors) shot down by SHADO. Foster is recovered inside an alien spacesuit and is nearly killed having it removed. The whole thing turns out to be a dream experienced when he passed out in a sauna after over-indulging at a party. A more imaginative use of this trope occurs in "Mindbender", when a crystal found at a UFO crash site causes Commander Straker to hallucinate that he is an actor in a science-fiction TV series.
  • An episode of Vikings has a captured Catholic priest given a chance to save his life by proving his faith. We see him praying before accepting a red-hot sword fresh off a furnace, his faith giving him strength as he walks across a field, past stunned Vikings and places the sword before the Queen. We then cut to the priest opening his eyes as the sword is placed into his hands...and the reality sets in as he starts screaming in agony and only makes it a few steps before collapsing in sobs as the Vikings laugh.
  • Walker, Texas Ranger had a dream episode, where Partner Trivette was revealed to have gotten killed at the beginning, and Walker died at the very end, but not before foiling the villains' plans anyway. When Walker's wife wakes up at the end of the episode, you find out that it may end up coming to pass anyway.
  • The Wild Wild West episode "The Night of the Man-Eating House". Near the beginning, the characters discover and approach the title house. After a series of terrifying events, at the end the characters wake up and discover that the horrific events in the house were All Just a Nightmare. In the last scene, they find themselves approaching the house again.
  • Season 9 of Will & Grace opens with this trope. Season 8 had aired 11 years prior and involved a Distant Finale. Those events were rewritten as Karen Walker's dream.
  • The penultimate episode of Without a Trace's third season does this, as Jack Malone is trying to deal with his demons.
  • One episode of the Charlie Drake Brit Com The Worker has the title character experiencing an increasingly surreal series of events which culminate in his arrival at a TV studio, where it turns out that he's the leading actor in a TV Sitcom called The Worker... Drake liked this plot so much he reused it in a later episode. A more conventional use of the trope occurs when the Worker gets hit on the head by a boomerang and has a surreal dream about Aborigines (possibly inspired by Drake's earlier comic song "My Boomerang Won't Come Back". Except this time it did).
  • The X-Files is fond of doing this.


Top

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

/

Media sources:

/

Report