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Flashback B-Plot

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The story of a character in the present day is interspersed with flashbacks telling a linear story of past events of the same character's life, as a form of Backstory. The flashbacks may be prompted by various related objects or situations in the present. This can be done with multiple characters as well, with each flashback focusing on their experience in the same time period.

Two flashbacks to the same subject matter throughout an episode can be considered the downplayed version of this trope. Unlike frame stories, this trope does not involve anyone narrating the story In-Universe. Compare San Dimas Time, where due to Time Travel, two plotlines in two different times occur "simultaneously". Subtrope to Anachronic Order, Meanwhile, in the Future…, Two Lines, No Waiting, and often Flashback Echo. Can be considered a variation of How We Got Here. Transitions may involve Age Cut. Inverted when the B-plot is Flash Forwards instead of flashbacks. See also Simultaneous Arcs and Whole Episode Flashback.

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Examples

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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Inverted in Katmandu: The whole story is told this way: After the third issue onwards, the plot switches between stories told by Leahtrah to either Thorin or their children about her ancestor Liska, and how the latter became a warrior.

    Fan Works 
  • The Petriculture Cycle: In Pandelirium, the main plot of Discord's reformation in the present is mixed with flashbacks of the events leading up to his defeat in the past, in reverse order.
  • In the My Hero Academia fanfics Hero Class Civil Warfare and Locked In Digital, the stories are arranged this way, with the main plot (the titular exam in the former, and Izuku trying to live a normal life in the latter) interspersed with past events (the 7 day prep of the villain team and Izuku going through his nearly year long deadly simulation run) within the same chapters.
  • Spanning Time explores the world of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky through the eyes of Grovyle. The tale cuts between flashbacks detailing his history and the 'here and now' smack in the middle of Explorers' plot, fleshing out the details and providing an interesting take on Grovyle's past.
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    Film — Animated 
  • In Finding Dory, at the same time that Dory, Marlin, and Nemo are traveling in search of Dory's parents, the audience learns through flashbacks about Dory's old life with her parents at the Marine Life Institute, how she ended up accidentally getting herself separated from them, and how she spent her life wandering in the ocean before finally meeting up with Marlin for the very first time during the original Finding Nemo movie.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Arrival (and the story it's based on, "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang) alternates between Louise's memories of her daughter and the present day story of translating the alien language, though the flashbacks aren't specifically chronologically ordered.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Tim Burton's film tells the regular story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, while interspersing flashbacks of Willy Wonka's childhood.
  • Deadpool (2016) combines this with How We Got Here: The present-day battle on the highway against Francis's goons is interspersed with flashbacks telling the title character's origin story, which explains why Deadpool is trying to hunt down Francis in the present.
  • The Duel of the Brothers: More often than not, Ho-tian and Jiao-hao will have flashbacks to their pasts when they are kids, promising to look out for each other, before the scene cuts back to the present where they were adults. Notably the last scene of the two brothers together: Ho-tian holding on Jia-hao's corpse and telling him not to die, while intersect with a Match Cut depicting a flashback of Ho-tian (as a child) holding a feverish, seriously ill Jia-hao (ditto) telling his younger brother to wake up.
  • The Godfather, Part two tells the story of Michael Corleone as the new Don of the family. During the film we also get flashbacks to the first years of Vito Corleone, his father, in New York to show the difference on how they balanced their power and their families.
  • Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is about Sophie's attempt to prepare the grand reopening of her late mother Donna's hotel when everything seems to be going wrong. Her stuggles remind Donna's friends Rosie and Tanya about the struggles Donna had when she first got to the island, so the story about Sophie is interspersed with flashbacks following younger Donna after she graduated with her friends, when she traveled around Europe, and when she met Sophie's three fathers.
  • Memento has a version of this, though because of the film's structure the more prominent story is told Back to Front. The main story sees Leonard interacting with people around town, while the secondary story consists of shorter black and white scenes of him in his room mostly talking about his memory condition, either on the phone with someone or to himself in Second-Person Narration. The two stories converge at the end, making the movie one story told from both beginning and end.
  • Inverted and used in conjunction with Framing Device in Memorial Day: WWII veteran Bud Vogel's war experiences are told through a series of flashbacks while he explains his them to his grandson Kyle, while the film also flashes forward to an adult Kyle developing his own war experiences similar to Bud's.

    Literature 
  • Alan Garner: Thursbitch uses this trope with some crossover between times in a small hamlet in England.
    • In Boneland, Colin and the Watcher are playing out the same issues of loss and trauma, in much the same geological place but separated by up to half a million years in time. Both are struggling to work out what is happening to them according to their conditioning and cultural preconceptions. Garner even hints that Recursion is happening and they are somehow directly linked.
  • The Alastair Reynolds story that "Beyond the Aquila Rift" is based on has the main plot focusing on Greta familiarizing Thom with the new station, while the B-plot (which is actually more of a Flash Forward) sees him and Greta trying to awaken Suzy from her surge tank.
  • "Brother Rifle" by Daryl Gregory alternates between ex-marine Rashad in rehabilitation for his brain injury and his moments in combat leading up to that injury.
  • Bone From a Dry Sea by Peter Dickinson is partly set four million years ago in a culture based on the aquatic ape hypothesis and partly following the archaeologist who's digging up its remains.
  • Dark Places takes place like this. The "present" story tells Libby's chronological attempts to figure out who murdered her family, while the "past" section chronologically retells the last day of Libby's mother's life from her perspective and that of her apparent killer, her son Ben.
  • The Fifth Season: The story of The Protagonist is told in three different lines—mirroring her three names—and one of them is told in Second-Person Narration.
  • Gentleman Bastard series: Books one and three alternate chapters with flashbacks that cover the years prior to the first book, with the Bastards' upbringing relating in some way to the present story. Red Seas uses them to explain How We Got Here instead.
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince alternates between Harry's sixth year at Hogwarts and Voldemort's origins through Pensieve Flashbacks, though this could be considered more of a Frame Story depending on how you look at it.
  • The two plotlines in Nemesis by Isaac Asimov are separated in time as well as in space, and they alternate chapter by chapter and converge at the end, as the plotline that starts at an earlier date catches up to the one that takes place later. The differences in chronology are not immediately obvious at the beginning of the book.
  • "Second Person, Present Tense" also by Daryl Gregory has a more downplayed version of this, with the second half alternating between the present day and the main character's foggy memories of before her overdose on the "Zen" drug.
  • "Sonnie's Union" (sequel to the original "Sonnie's Edge" story) by Peter F. Hamilton alternates between Sonnie on her own in the present-day and the story of how "beastie-baiting" was shut down and what happened after that.
  • Each book in The Stormlight Archive features a plot thread told in flashback, focusing on a different character. The Way of Kings focuses on Kaladin, Words of Radiance on Shallan, Oathbringer on Dalinar, and Rhythm of War on Eshonai and Venli.
  • The Sword-Edged Blonde: As Eddie makes his way to a small village in the mountains, the book alternates between Eddie's journey in the present and his recollections of his first journey, years ago.
  • Use of Weapons has a version, as the story is told through chapters alternating between those going in normal chronological order and those in reverse order that reveal Cheradenine Zakalwe's past, which merge in the finale.
  • The Warhammer 40,000 Astra Militarum novel Baneblade alternates between "present-day" chapters and flashback ones, the latter also going backwards in time.
  • Warrior Cats: SkyClan's Destiny works this way, with the current-day story of SkyClan interspersed with chapters from Stick's point of view, back before he left the city, some time earlier than the main events of the book.
  • Whateley Universe: "Be-Wildered" starts with Wilder the day after he mutated, and then jumps back and forth between his time at Whateley Academy (the in-series present) and post-mutation, but not at Whateley.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Arrowverse:
    • This is a big part of Arrow, with the first five seasons alternating between the present day and Oliver's days on the island. Each episode divides its time between Oliver's activities in the present as the Hood and the events in his past (mostly on the island) that led up to him becoming a vigilante.
      • The episode "Odyssey" put most of its emphasis on events on the island.
      • The episode "The Undertaking" didn't use the island at all but did focus on events surrounding the sinking of the Queen's Gambit and Moira's involvement with Tempest.
      • "The Promise", like "Odyssey" focuses more on the island than on the present.
      • And in Season 3, these flashbacks focus on his hitherto undisclosed training with A.R.G.U.S. in Hong Kong.
    • The Flash (2014) has a number of these, as you would expect from a spinoff of Arrow:
      • "Things You Can't Outrun" includes three flashbacks to the night of the particle accelerator explosion, each time entering the story from a different character's perspective.
      • "Tricksters" shows what really happened with the Reverse-Flash and Harrison Wells after the former killed Barry's mother.
      • "The Trap" is somewhat of a Sequel Episode to "Things You Can't Outrun", in that it uses a similar format to show the time when Barry was in a coma (which was right after the accelerator explosion). A deleted scene would have added another flashback to the episode, from Caitlin's point of view.
      • "Therefore I Am" shows us us Clifford DeVoe's origins on the night of the accelerator explosion and the aftermath.
      • "O Come All Ye Thankful" gives us Cicada's origin story in a similar manner, showing us his relationship with his niece and how he received powers from a satellite from the Enlightenment, which also injured his niece.
    • The Constantine episode "Quid Pro Quo" uses this, with the A plot being Constantine trying to save Chas's daughter, and the B plot being a flashback to when Constantine accidentally made Chas semi-immortal.
  • Criminal Minds: The series' present-day stories about detectives solving crimes are intertwined with flashbacks detailing the crime itself and the people involved.
  • Firefly: "Out of Gas" mixes this with Anachronic Order. The episode begins with Mal collapsing to the floor of the dark and deserted Serenity. As he struggles to treat his injuries and repair the ship, flashbacks alternate between the immediate lead-up to this event and the backstory of how Mal first purchased the Serenity and assembled his trusty crew.
  • The Good Place: Used in the first two seasons, but eventually dropped. While the A-story would show what was happening to the characters in the afterlife, the B-story would use flashbacks to show what the characters were like while they were still alive.
  • The Haunting of Hill House: Each episode in the first season follows the Crane siblings in the present time, but the B-plot of almost all episodes are flashbacks of their time as children in the titular haunted house, and are slowly telling the events that led to their mother's mysterious death.
  • Not entirely told through flashbacks, but it's heavily centered around them: One season 1 episode of House of Anubis focuses on the students seeking treasure and having their usual drama, but involves a subplot about Victor and Sarah remembering moments from their childhood, told through flashbacks, in order to give more context about their complex relationship and Victor's quest for eternal life.
  • Lost: Most episodes have flashbacks as the B-story, focusing on a single character's life before they ended up on the island, usually thematically connected to the A-story. In later seasons, the flashbacks are sometimes replaced with flashforwards, showing future events, and flash-sideways, which depict the characters in an alternate reality.
  • Monk: The episode "Mr. Monk And Little Monk" has an A-plot where Monk is hired by a childhood friend to investigate a murder, triggering flashbacks to Monk's childhood where he had to help the same friend who's been framed for stealing bake sale money.
  • Once Upon a Time: In season 1, the A-story of each episode focuses on life in the town of Storybrooke, while the B-story takes place in flashback showing life before the curse in Fairy Tale land. The flashbacks and the A-story focus on the same character, showing what their lives were like before and after the curse.
  • The series finale of Parks and Recreation has a main plot where the characters, many of whom are going to leave Pawnee, take one last job to fix a broken swing set. As each character takes a role in this job, they get a lengthy flash-forward sequence showing what their lives will be in the future.
  • The first two seasons of Quantico jump back and forth between Alex's time at the titular academy (or, in the second season, her time at The Farm), and the present.
  • The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Necessary Evil" has Odo investigating someone trying to murder Quark, while including flashbacks to ten years earlier during the Cardassian Occupation involving Odo's investigation of the murder of a Bajoran collaborator.

    Video Games 
  • Ace Attorney Investigations 2: Case 3 has two flashbacks to when the originating incident happened, with the rest taking place in the present and revolving around finally solving the incident.
  • We Love Katamari has the main plot of the Prince and his cousins rolling Katamaris for their fans on Earth, but all of the cutscenes involve flashbacks to the King's troubled childhood.
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    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
    • Avatar: The Last Airbender: In "Zuko Alone", the A-story of Zuko wandering around the Earth Kingdom and being offered hospitality by a peasant family mirrors the story (told in flashbacks) of Zuko's childhood and how Ozai became Firelord.
    • The Legend of Korra: "Out of the Past" has an imprisoned Korra flashing back to her past life of Aang's memories which show her the trial of Yakone the bloodbender, while in the present the other characters search for Korra and Lin's captured soldiers.
  • Ben 10: Omniverse: The series alternates between the present day and the original series era five years ago, with the flashbacks connecting to present-day villains and plot points.
  • BoJack Horseman:
    • "The Telescope" has BoJack visiting his ex-best friend and creator of Horsin' Around Herb Kazzaz, who is dying of cancer. A good chunk of the episode also shows flashbacks of Herb and BoJack in the 80's and 90's to explain what ruined their friendship: when Herb successfully sold Horsin' Around, when Herb was outed as gay and subsequently fired, and BoJack not sticking up for him.
    • "The Old Sugarman Place" follows two stories taking place at the titular Michigan home. The A-plot has BoJack, having impulsively fled Los Angeles, spend a year fixing up the abandoned house with help from his new neighbor. The B-plot flashes back to the 1940s, when BoJack's mother Beatrice spent summers there with her family, and the trauma that her family endured when she was still a child.note 
    • "The Amelia Earhart Story" has Princess Carolyn go back to her hometown of South Carolina, bonding with a pregnant teenager so Princess Carolyn can adopt her baby. As she looks around her hometown, we see her backstory unfold, depicting her dependent relationship with her mother and how she underwent a traumatic Teen Pregnancy and her first miscarriage.
    • "Mr. Peanutbutter's Boos" has four stories going on simultaneously, each following one of Mr. Peanutbutter's Halloween parties from four different years (1993, 2004, 2009, and the present 2018), with him dating a different girl in each year.
  • A couple of Futurama episodes focus on a story taking place in the 30th century while also following a story from Fry's life in the 20th century.
    • "The Luck of the Fryrish" has Fry track down his lucky seven-leaf clover from when he was a child, while also flashing back to his life growing up with his brother Yancy, who Fry suspects stole his clover and his identity after Fry went missing.
    • "Jurassic Bark" has Fry discover a fossil of his dog Seymour, while also showing the story of how Fry met Seymour.
    • "Cold Warriors" has an A-plot following an outbreak of the formerly-eradicated common cold in New New York, and a B-plot flashing back to Fry entering a science fair planning to send an infected guinea pig to space to preserve the common cold. The plots come together when they need a sample of the cold for a vaccine, and they retrieve a sample created by... the kid Fry lost to.
  • Pepper Ann: The final episode, "The Finale", takes place in the future, with the B-plot taking place 15 years prior in the in-series present.
  • They are spread out over the course of Transformers Animated with each Autobot on the Spacebridge crew getting one or two episodes focused on their past and how they came to be on the team.
  • We Bare Bears: In "Occupy Bears", the cave is in danger of being destroyed to make room for a cell phone tower. While the bears try to find a way to save their home in the present, flashbacks to their original search for a home are prompted by various objects in their home in the present.
  • In the Codename: Kids Next Door finale, Operation INTERVIEWS has the adult team revealing to the audience and Father what happened on their final mission with Numbuh 1.
  • During the DuckTales (2017) episode “From the Confidential Casefiles of Agent 22,” Scrooge and Webby attempt to save Ms. Beakley from Black Heron. At the same time, Scrooge tells Webby about how he met Ms. Beakley, which was when they were partnered up on a mission to stop Black Heron.

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