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Establishing Series Moment

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Sisko: I have a son that I'm raising alone, Captain. This is not the ideal environment.
Picard: Unfortunately, Starfleet officers do not always have the luxury to serve in an ideal environment.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Emissary", promptly telling the audience that this ain't the starship Enterprise

Some series have a really straightforward premise which they execute immediately. Others play it close to the chest until the very end of the first episode. Either way, most shows need to establish their tone, premise or both in their first episode, both to make the viewer feel comfortable and to filter out the people who wouldn't like the show.

Most of these moments are based on giving the audience a shock or just showing us what either the premise or the execution would be. It's normally done in a straightforward way, with no anticipation or foreshadowing, to both overwhelm and surprise the audience and make them addicted to the show. Note that promotional materials can spoil these moments.

May involve beginning the story In Medias Res before cutting back to a slow-burning set-up once viewers know the kind of thing they're in for later on. May come with an Establishing Team Shot when the premise of the series revolves around a team.

The R-Rated Opening is a specific subtrope of this, used to establish early on that the work isn't suitable for sensitive audiences. Can overlap with First-Episode Twist, but an Establishing Series Moment doesn't have to be a twist. Contrast with Halfway Plot Switch. Compare Establishing Character Moment, where the purpose is to show us a character's personality in one single moment, and with Growing the Beard, where the quality of the show is established.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Asian Animation 

    Comic Strips 

    Films — Animated 

  • Animorphs starts with the standard "five special kids are given powers by an alien" scene. Then the alien gets gruesomely Eaten Alive right in front of them. Then the Body Horror of morphing. Then the realization that they can trust no one, the failed mission, and the permanent transformation of one member into a hawk, and it becomes clear that this book is actually going to be an incredibly dark deconstruction of its genre.
  • The Village Elders voting on Rob's fate in An Outcast in Another World sets the tone for much of the series going forward. It shows the reader that much of the story will be about overcoming societal exclusion.
  • Artemis Fowl begins with the twelve-year-old protagonist conning a decrepit, half-mad fairy out of her Book, which is basically the fairy Bible.
  • The first page of Christopher Buckley's political satire Boomsday starts with a fictional news report describing the crisis caused rising social security taxes that will form the backbone of its plot (resulting in angry teenagers vandalizing a retirement home), before offhandedly mentioning, as if it's barely newsworthy, that the Vice-President has "shot another lawyer".
  • The first chapter of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime is numbered 2, and features the autistic protagonist describing the dead dog in the title in his usual fashion, describing things he observes in great, and often unnecessary detail ("I decided that the dog was probably killed with the fork because I could not see any other wounds on the dog and I do not think you would stick a garden fork in a dog after it had died for some other reason.")
  • The Dresden Files: It's either the first time Harry opened his mouth, or blowing up the toad demon and breaking into the Varsity.
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas begins with the main character being attacked by bees, then remarking that the drugs he took are taking effect.
  • The 1907 dystopian novel Lord of the World starts with a prologue depicting two Catholic priests meeting in secret with an old man, who tells them the history of the past ninety years or so, in which the Labour Party (which had yet to govern in real life at the time of publication) established a dictatorship, silenced opposition, and fervently persecuted Christians for decades, hence the reason the priests are in hiding. If that's not enough to show the book is a pro-traditionalist, anti-modernist Author Tract, the first real chapter has a terrorist attack, to which the government response is to euthanize the injured instead of giving them medical treatment.
  • The Salvation War begins with Satan declaring his dominion of Earth, and a human commander promptly telling him to piss off.
  • The first chapter of A Song of Ice and Fire is told from the viewpoint of a seven-year-old excited to be going to his first beheading.
  • In the first part of Worm, we follow a teenage girl who's gained superpowers and is for the first time going out to pursue her childhood dream of being a superhero...and she almost gets killed in her first fight and every other super she meets mistakes her for a villain because she has a villainous-looking power.

  • The very first line of the pilot of Welcome to Night Vale establishes the show's bizarre mix of the comedic and the disturbing: "A friendly desert community, where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome to Night Vale."
  • Nothing sets the tone for The Adventure Zone: Balance as much as in episode 1, when Griffin reads the name "Sildar Hallwinter", the brothers riff that it's too over-the-top fantasy for the campaign, and rename the character Barry Bluejeans.
    • Similarly, in the same episode when Justin tells everyone his character's name.
  • Interstitial: Actual Play begins with the players discussing how the game is both about the relationships between people and creating Weird Crossovers, though they clarify that they're sticking to things owned by Disney and Square Enix. Then they mention that Encino Man is a valid character. But the true establishing moment is when Wheels announces their player character as Criss Angel.
    Jo: How is it so much better and worse than I could've possibly imagined?!

  • The first several pages of Ruby Quest have the adorable bunny girl protagonist waking up in a box and exploring the clean and empty building she's in...and then she opens a closet door and a flayed body falls out.

  • Elisabeth: Many people went to the premiere expecting a musical similar to the romantic, heart-warming, and extremely inaccurate Sissi trilogy. To a lesser extent people unfamiliar with the musical still have that expectation when they watch it for the first time. The musical disabuses them of that notion as soon as the curtain rises; the prologue has Elisabeth's murderer posthumously defending himself, followed immediately by the ghosts of her relatives rising to sing about Elisabeth and Death himself declaring his love for her.
  • You know Jesus Christ Superstar is a different kind of Bible story when the first song you hear starts with eight or so utterances of "What's the buzz? Tell me what's a-happening!"

    Visual Novels 
  • The Ace Attorney series begins with Phoenix getting a case to defend one of his old friends. Upon his introduction, the friend, Larry Butz, has a comically melodramatic reaction to his girlfriend's death and proceeds to not do a very good job of testifying about his actions when called to the stand. This gives you some idea of what kind of people you'll be dealing with in the series.
  • In Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, there are three moments that sum up the series, all in the first chapter.
  • Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony gets its own moment midway through the first trial. Much of the prologue and first chapter are similar to the first game in their setup, but then you realize that the character you're playing as, Kaede Akamatsu, is actually the killer, which results in her being executed and you playing as Shuichi Saihara for the rest of the game. This is only the first indication of how far the game goes to troll the player.
  • The first diner scene in Daughter for Dessert shows the protagonist running his diner, helped by Amanda and Kathy, with Mortelli eating his toast and drinking his coffee. It also introduces, through "Kathy's" stories, the idea that the protagonist and Amanda could end up in a relationship.
  • don't take it personally babe, it just ain't your story: the first scene involves John Rook introducing himself to his class, while his students discuss him online.
  • Heart of the Woods begins with Madison Raines and her best friend Tara Bryck on a train to the town of Eysenfeld, establishing that they're far from home and giving some idea of what Eysenfeld is like. Tara gets annoyed when Madison wakes her up, and passive-aggressively reminds her of her decision to quit, showing that things are tense between them, and establishing a subplot. The fact that the scene sets the tone for the game is especially important, as the game would have started with a Taranormal broadcast, but while the creators thought it did a good job of establishing Madison and Tara's characters, they felt it set the wrong tone.
  • Katawa Shoujo does this on several levels:
    • The very first scene in the game has the protagonist, within the span of literally less than a minute, meeting with his high school crush on a beautiful snowy morning, getting confessed, and suffering a nearly lethal heart attack, which ends up taking him out for four months and resulting in basically his entire life falling apart.
    • The game proper than begins with Hisao entering his new school, a special school for disabled kids, being astounded by how utterly normal and inviting it it looks... then opening the door to his classroom and finding it full of crippled freaks... which turn out, seconds later, to be completely normal, mostly friendly teenagers.
    • His very first serious conversation in the new school (and the game) is between him and the student(s) showing him around, one of which happens to be deaf - but nevertheless charming, helpful and cordial. When he's asked whether there's anything he doesn't understand, one option is to immediately ask her about her deafness, which suddenly turns the discussion far more awkward. This sets up the main theme of the game: that people with disabilities are people first and foremost.

    Web Animation 
  • The first animation clip in the first ASDF Movie has a man "take" a nose from a toddler when a police officer suddenly kicks in the door, yells "Look out! He's got a nose!" and guns the man down. The animations that follow are all just as absurd and many of them are just as violent, too.
  • Camp Camp has an overly cheery camp counselor gushing about how two new campers will be joining the summer camp that day, before asking a young boy named Max standing next to him why he's outside. Said boy proceeds to not-so-subtly proclaim his newest escape attempt, casually dropping the word "fucking" in the process. When admonished for swearing, Max tells him to eat a dick and, by proxy, tells the audience that this isn't a cute kids' cartoon about summer camp.
  • The very first line of The Frollo Show is, "Beata Maria, you know I will mindfuck the viewer." He ain't kidding.
  • The Happy Tree Friends premiere "Spin Fun Knowin' Ya" starts off looking like a cutesy kids' show, with Lumpy spinning a merry-go-round that Cuddles, Giggles, and Toothy are riding. Then Toothy bloodily splatters against a tree. Things go downhill from there.
  • If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device opens up with a Custodian announcing that a text-to-speech device has been successfully implemented into the Golden Throne, allowing the God-Emperor of Mankind to speak for the first time in 10,000 years. The first things he says? About fucking time. I have so many things to complain about. As the Emperor learns just how far his once mighty Imperium of Man has fallen and how much of the mess the galaxy has become, he sets forth trying to "unfuck" things. It sets the stage for many colorful critiques on the multiple retcons and odd choices Warhammer40000. Hilarity Ensues
  • Hazbin Hotel: The pilot opens with Princess Classic Charlie singing a mournful song over the deaths of her people, juxtaposed with sumptuously detailed backgrounds displaying the horrors of the most recent Purge, further juxtaposed with images of how little the surviving denizens of Hell actually care about it. The Cold Open then ends with a rather comedic death of a small demon at the claws of a larger one. This establishes the show being a cynical and darkly comedic adult musical animated series with elaborate art.
  • Minilife TV establishes itself as a rather comedic show in the opening of the first episode. Chris randomly gets an idea for a brand new TV show from reading a book, so he calls Ian on his phone to come over and he does that by simply walking into another room, establishing that they're close friends who live together. Ian makes Chris say his idea in several different ways and a voice from the heavens helps them come up with the name of the show.
  • A little red-hooded girl serenely walks through empty forest, accompanied by beautiful music, until a horde of shadow monsters surround her. Then she whips out a a sniper-scythe and slaughters them all. Ladies and gentleman, welcome to RWBY, a series about badass girls based on fairy tales swinging around ridiculously cool weapons with style. Discounting the trailers, the first episode has that very same red-hooded girl beat up group of would-be robbers and unveiling her sniper-scythe all set to the first opening that was blaring from her headphones.
  • Zero Punctuation: Yahtzee's review of The Darkness demo has him speaking rapidly and cynically while using still images that at best teleport between poses and explaining his insistence on not parroting popular opinions and how he'll only buy the game if it was cheaper and came with a better game and some cake and Belgium, readily establishing Yahtzee as a Motor Mouth Caustic Critic with high expectations for games.
  • Unbiased History has this as the opening line: "There Once Was a Dream....A Dream To PURGE this Rotten World of the Barbarians that Infested it! A Dream Called Rome...."

    Web Comics 
  • 8-Bit Theater takes a while to really find its feet, with the first few comics being fairly bland and generic jokes. This strip contains the first use of distressingly logical stupidity that the strip would become known for.
  • The first story arc of The Adventures of Dr. McNinja involves Doc fighting to save a child who has turned into a giant lumberjack. It only gets crazier from there...
  • The very first strip of Ansem Retort had Axel torching an orphanage. It went downhill from there.
  • The first thing that happens in Hooves of Death is a cute, sparkly, elegant unicorn using her colorful magic powers to pick up and fasten on a bandolier of grenades. After she leaves the tent and walks through a fairly modern-looking military encampment, exchanging a few words with both her fellow unicorns and some humans, she passes through the massive energy shield protecting the camp and tosses the grenade into a charging mob of zombies. Yes, this comic's premise can in fact be summed up in three words: "unicorns versus zombies."
  • Beatriz Overseer: We begin with some lighthearted banter between two vaguely medieval, adorable mice as they escort the title character in her coach... and then within the first three pages they are brutally mowed down by a hail of crossbow bolts as they are ambushed. Then, Beatriz proceeds to brutally destroy her attackers in a rather unnecessarily horrible way. Yeah, it's that kind of comic.
  • Homestuck:
    • The comic starts out slow, with the reader slugging through walls of texts and a few flashes with nothing eventful really happening. Then, a meteor starts falling towards the protagonist's house. It only gets crazier from that point.
    • A much earlier contender, though much lighter in spirit, comes after the command "John: Quickly retrieve arms from drawer." Within the first few pages, the comic itself is actively Gaslighting the readers. Welcome to Homestuck, leave your sanity at the door.
    • And shortly after that, you get the line, "You CAPTCHALOGUE them in your SYLLADEX. You have no idea what that actually means though." This is the first of many, many times you will encounter ridiculous portmanteaus used to describe events, actions, and items in the comic, usually with little explanation at first.
  • This strip of Kevin & Kell is the first indicator that animals in that world act out their natural roles as predator and prey, as well as proof of how taboo the eponymous couple's marriage is.
  • The first two pages of minus. feature surreal and inexplicable happenings, but it isn't until the third page, when the eponymous character turns a balloon vendor into a balloon after he upsets her, that the viewers know it's about an omnipotent child who has the immaturity to match.
  • Princess Pi begins with the eponymous character dueling Godzilla. Soon, the Statue of Liberty shows up and vanquishes the monster, and the series' weirdness truly begins.
  • Remus features a suicide attack on the White House on the first page. Things deteriorate considerably from there.
  • The first joke of Something*Positive involves the lead protagonist sending his ex-girlfriend a coat hanger as a baby shower gift.
  • Although its terrible artwork and abuse of the English language is obvious from the very first panel, Tails Gets Trolled comes across like just another godawful Sonic fan-comic right up until the point where, eight pages into the first chapter, Shadow responds to two trolls verbally harassing him and Tails by whipping out a knife and brutally stabbing them both to death. After that, it's off to the races.
  • Kill Six Billion Demons: A mysterious armored man appears from nowhere, holding an artifact of mass power before Allison, chased by a group of skeleton-beast-riding, dimension-breaking angels, who proceed to kill him and kidnap Allison's boyfriend. The man then proceeds to shove said artifact into Allison's head through sheer willpower, despite being decapitated, and it only gets more metal from there on in.

    Web Video 


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Series Establishing Moment


Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are

The story opens with the two title characters flipping a coin, only for it to defy the laws of probability and land on heads every time. Guildenstern then remarks they this means they have wandered into a place that defies random chance and conventional time-tables you would find in Real Life. This establishes the metatextual nature of the story, the play a dramatization of Hamlet that draws attention to the artificiality of theatre so indicative of Absurdist media.

How well does it match the trope?

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Main / EstablishingSeriesMoment

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