A story for an episodic medium can develop on its own, without a support from the get-go, if done well. The story forms and builds on itself as the episode progresses; the setting is made, the tone is set, the goal of the episode/characters is, or will be, made clear. It's a straight development from start to end.
However, sometimes a situation from the first acts of the episode or media serves as the connecting allegory or parallel metaphor that the episode will take on, instead of the story gradually easing into the plot. Usually this parallel is in the form of a normal everyday activity that the characters are doing, and just happens to line up with the story material that will be involved.
For example, characters may be watching a movie at the start of the episode or medium that has the similar plot and character development as the episode itself.
Most of the time, this is done not so bluntly, but rather, subtly, and more complexly, serving as Foreshadowing, and isn't obvious until the episode is watched a second time. If done even more subtly, the parallel may serve as the climactic revelation later in the episode.
Compare Chekhov's Gun and Meaningful Echo. Contrast Batman Cold Open, where the opening scenes have nothing to do with the rest of the episode. Sometimes may be part of a Fake-Out Opening. Also strongly connected with the Aesop at the end of the episode. May create Irony if the episode's parallel opposes the first act's suggestion.
Because most of these parallels give away important plot points later in a particular episode, all spoilers are unmarked.
- The Apprentice, the Student, and the Charlatan: At one point while hearing about the tale of his namesake and Clover the Clever, Nova Shine remarks that the plot of their story is predictable. The mare is open about her feelings and the stallion keeps it to himself leading to a lot of unnecessary drama and tension. Fast forward to the next few chapters, and Nova is clearly head over heels for Twilight Sparkle but doesn't know how to process it while Twilight is openly pursuing him, leading to a number of misunderstandings and situations.
- The Breaking Bad episode "Negro y Azul" opens with a Mexican band singing a song of the same name whose lyrics mirror Walter's growing rep as a drug dealer and his conflict with the Cartel which escalates in the rest of the episode.
- Better Call Saul:
- The episode "Lantern" opens with a young Jimmy and his brother reading The Adventures of Mabel in lantern-light, as the camera fades further and further into the lantern until it totally consumes the screen. The lantern, who Jimmy provided oil for in his brother's worst years, is destroyed at the end of the episode to signal the end of their brotherhood and like the light consuming the screen, the lantern creates an all-consuming fire.
- "Rock and Hard Place" begins with a single blue flower waving in the wind in the middle of a vast, lifeless wasteland. Nacho will go to the same spot as that flower at the end of the episode, where he will face off against the wicked criminals he's associated with and become the only one among them to die a good man.
- The Orville:
- "Nothing Left On Earth Excepting Fishes": In the cold-open teaser, Ed and new crewmember Janel Tyler have kindled a relationship, and that night, watch The King and I, the movie from which the episode's title comes from. The basic plot of the movie is about a Siamese king, Mongkut, who is unwilling to follow the modernistic standards of a new English governess, leading to a clash of personalities between the two. Later, when Ed and Janel are set to go to an exotic planet on a date, a Krill battlecruiser captures their shuttlecraft, and Janel is seemingly tortured to get Ed to give up his command codes. The situation becomes complicated when Teleya, a Krill from a previous episodenote reveals herself, also revealing that she was Janel, in disguise, and that Janel, the human, never actually existed.note The battlecruiser is then attacked and boarded by a hostile force, and Ed and Teleya evacuate in an escape pod. The pod lands on a planet, with the hostile force tracking them. The two set up camp in a cave with their distress transmitter, where the two settle their differences, but only just, as Teleya, and her species, is just as stubborn in her hateful extremist religious beliefs (especially against the Planetary Union) as King Mongkut. Ed points out that the hostilities between the Planetary Union and the Krill would eventually result in Mutually Assured Destruction, leaving nothing behind, excepting fishes, and that something needs to give, in the name of survival for both peoples.
- "Gently Falling Rain": The episode's post-intro scene begins with Union and Krill officials watching a stage performance of Annie, an orphan girl looking for a loving parental figure, who was unwanted in her own era's society. Later in the episode, Captain Ed Mercer conveys the delegation to visit the Krill homeworld for the very first time. Things do not go as planned, as Teleya returns, and instigates a coup d'état, installing herself as the new Supreme Chancellor. When Ed is seemingly taken to be executed as an enemy-of-the-state, he is instead taken through the capital city. A splinter faction wanting peace with the Planetary Union rescues him, bringing him to a safehouse, where it is revealed that the relationship that Ed had with Teleya bore a child; a half-human, half-Krill child, at that. Like Annie, the child would be shunned by Krill society, and Earth isn't yet on good terms with the Krill either, so she wouldn't be accepted in either culture.
- "A Tale Of Two Topas": After the intro, Cmdr. Grayson has a small cultural rights dispute to settle with an officer who does not want to wear clothing on a religious holiday, leaving him completely naked while on duty. Bortus and Klyden's son, Topa, on the other hand, spiritually feels that he is not who he supposed to be. He is correct, as in "About A Girl", when he was born (or rather, she), Moclan culture, after a tribunal, forced her, as a baby, to undergo a "corrective" procedure to change her gender to male. He then grew up believing that he was born male, until now. The situation is complicated when Topa discovers the tribunal file containing the case, and discovers her true nature. Later, Klyden and Bortus get into multiple arguments with and without crew members present, about Topa's cultural and bodily rights, and how they are not in-line with the cultural traditions of the Moclans. (Complicating things further is the possibility of the Moclans withdrawing from the Planetary Union.)
- "From Unknown Graves": Subverted in that all the present-day plot threads involved in the episode, starting from the post-teaser act, all parallel each other and have to do with love and/or sacrifice:
- John Lamarr and Talla initially want to continue their relationship, but find they are not compatible because they cannot physically love in a safe way. (At least not one that keeps John in one piece, and without injury.)
- The Orville crew is hosting a negotiation with a strictly-matriarchal society, the Janisi, where males are treated as second-class citizens. This goes against the Planetary Union's cultural views, but with the Kaylon threat and the failure to ally with the Krill, they need all the help they can get. The Orville crew upholds an act to make it seem as though their male crew members are not authoritative, later planning to ease them into the idea of gender equality. Unfortunately, the talks break down when one of the Janisi delegates gets clingy with Ed, forcing Kelly to reveal the masquerade ahead of schedule. With some work, Kelly is able to find a personal similarity in marriage fidelity betweeen the two groups, suggesting that there is common ground, and that if the Janisi want to ally with the Union, they need to give up a bit of cultural prejudice.
- The main plot of the story is about a Kaylon who was damaged from a crash-landing, and was repaired by a robotics scientist, being given humanoid emotions in the process. It is possible for Isaac to have a similar procedure done, which Claire desires, as their emotional relationship is somewhat one-sided. Isaac undertakes the procedure, gains his emotions, but discovers that he is too advanced for him to consistently keep them, and modifying his neural circuitry to do so will require the scientist to erase his memory. Isaac initially wants to go through with the procedure out of "love" (or rather, what he has learned as his own version of love) for Claire. On the other hand, out of consideration for Isaac, wanting to keep his mind and personal experiences intact, rather than gain the emotions that she desires, Claire decides to reject the procedure.
- Power Rangers: Too many examples to count, given it's longevity on television, but usually a staple of the show, especially the earliest seasons of the show, as the series villain, if they have the capability to, will be watching the rangers on their everyday errands and activities, and base an attack to weaken the team, on that activity, argument, or idea alone. (For example, a rift in the team at the start of the episode will have implications later in the episode about how working together in friendship works better than the disorganized villains.)
- Red Dwarf: At the start of "Holoship", the crew watches a romantic film, with Rimmer criticizing the film for its idea that a man would abandon his dreams for a woman they love. Over the course of the rest of the episode, Rimmer proceeds to fall in love with a fellow Hologram from another ship, but gives up his chances of having a career on that ship upon learning that if he did, it would lead to her being switched off. Essentially, it means that he's giving up his dreams for the woman he loves.
- Star Trek: The Original Series:
- "The Conscience Of The King": At the start of the episode, Captain Kirk and an acquaintance, Leighton, watch a performance of Macbeth, where Leighton suspects one of the actors, Anton Karidian, of being a governor, Kodos, who imposed his own morals of eugenics on a colony that was facing starvation. Unfortunately, the supply ships arrived earlier than expected, meaning the deaths involved amounted to nothing but a massacre. Nine people, including Leighton, Kirk, and another crew member, Riley, are the only ones who can identify Kodos on-sight, but 6 have disappeared or died under mysterious circumstances, and it's made 7 when Leighton is later found dead, and almost 8 when Riley is poisoned, but is given medical attention and survives. Kirk suspects that he is next, and indeed is almost killed by an overloading phaser. Having enough, he confronts Karidian, where his suspicions about his identity are confirmed. However, Kodos wished to forget that time, regretting what he did. Riley is not convinced, and is set to kill Kodos, backstage, out of revenge, on his next performance. In a surprise twist, to protect her father, Kodos' daughter, Lenore, killed the previous witnesses in all instances, after going insane out of love, much like Lady Macbeth did from the guilt of pressing King Macbeth into killing more and more people to retain his throne. Plus, King Macbeth himself regrets his actions over the course of the play, as well. The only difference here is that Lenore kills Kodos by accident when he takes the phaser beam meant for Kirk.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation:
- "The Defector": The episode starts with Data performing a holodeck simulation of Henry V, where the titular king poses as a civilian, but Data is confused as to why King Henry would pose as a commoner. Picard states that Henry wanted to share his men's fears before they went into battle. Later in the episode, the titular Romulan defector that the Enterprise encounters later reveals himself to be a high-ranking Admiral, desperate to help the Federation, as the Romulans seem to be planning an incursion into Federation space.
- "Remember Me": One of Dr. Crusher's elderly friends loses his wife to old age, so he decides to retire from Starfleet Medical, transported back to his home planet by the Enterprise. Later in the episode, Dr. Crusher begins to notice major oddities: crew members are disappearing, with other crew not noticing or even remembering the lives of who disappeared. It's revealed later that a science experiment by Wesley Crusher trapped his mother in a pocket universe, and the oddities that Dr. Crusher experienced were a result of her reflecting on the discussion of her elderly friend; growing old and losing one's friends and family.
- "Legacy": The episode begins with some of the senior crew playing poker, and Riker offers to perform a card trick for Data. Unfortunately, Data sees through Riker's ruse to manipulate the deck to find Data's chosen card. Later, a rescue of a freighter crew develops into a surprising encounter with Ishara Yar, Tasha's sister. The freighter crew is being held on a failed Federation colony, where lawlessness rules, but is also kept in check by body trackers set to explode if removed. Ishara, with the help of the Enterprise crew, is able to remove this tracker, but betrays the crew when she uses her advantage to attempt to disable an opposing faction's generator. When the situation is settled, Ishara is sent back, and Data reflects on Ishara's ruse, wondering if it was illogical to trust her, given her social background.
- "The Chase": Captain Picard receives an impeccably-preserved ancient archaeological find from his former mentor at Starfleet Academy: a pottery container with several earthenware figurines inside of it. The mentor tries to encourage Picard to go with him on an expedition of great importance to the galaxy. Unfortunately, Picard rejects him. When the mentor is killed because of that expedition, the Enterprise and four other alien races, the Klingons, Cardassians, and Romulans, get involved, discovering a sequence of numbers representing a DNA strand with an encoded incomplete electronic program. Later, close to the end of the episode, they find the final organic portion needed to complete the program, revealing a recording of a Benevolent Precursor, whose people seeded the Milky Way galaxy with humanoid life, explaining why Humans, Klingons, Cardassians, Romulans, and any of the other humanoid Rubber-Forehead Aliens featured on the show looks so similar to each other. In essence, the concept is the same as the pottery that Captain Picard received earlier in the episode: a singular entity containing the root of all the parts,.
- "Frame of Mind": Not only a subtle parallel at first, but integrated into the story itself: After practicing and performing a role in a shipboard play where he is an abused psychiatric patientnote , Commander Riker is selected to lead a search-and-rescue for a group of Federation scientists on a planet undergoing total lawlessness. The thing is, while preparing, he finds that he is already on the planet, and he may not in-fact be Cmdr. Riker at all, but an actual patient at a similar-looking psychiatric ward who is living out his fantasies of being a starship commander in-insanity. Several times, the episode flip-flops between the truth of which is real; starship commander, or psychiatric patient. Eventually, Riker realizes which is real, after a wound on his head does not heal, even after being treated, and several inconsistencies between the two realities, but only one consistency that cements the mental falsehood; a humanoid alien that he does not recognize in any capacity in each situation. It's revealed that Riker's mind had built up many layers of protection, using the play and its rehearsal as one of the elements, to counteract a mental extraction process when he had been abducted by rebels during the mission, and he did not know it until the process failed and he actually woke up in true reality. The ordeal is so harrowing for Riker that he decides to strike the stage set himself to make sure he does not imagine any more hallucinations.
- Star Trek: Strange New Worlds:
- "Strange New Worlds": When we see Captain Pike for the first time, he's watching The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), a film in which an alien delivers an ultimatum to the human race and warns them what will happen if they continue their warmongering ways. In the episode's climax, Pike delivers a similar ultimatum to the inhabitants of Kiley 279, demonstrating to them that their refusal to compromise on critical issues may well result in a nuclear apocalypse similar to Earth's World War III. He caps off with the same words Klaatu used: "The choice is yours."
- Watchmen opens with the Tulsa Race Riots... then cuts to the present day, where a white couple watches an all-black production of Oklahoma!, foreshadowing how the fallout from the Tulsa Race Riots altered the course of history in the Watchmen universe.
- Stargate Infinity: Usually common, given the moral/educational nature of the show. For example, the first episode covers the difficulty of a spitfire Stargate Command officer who is unable to make split-timing decisions because of the uncertainty of their consequences during a training exercise. Later in the episode, the team he joins up with makes a decision to sacrifice their ability to return home, to prevent their enemies from infiltrating Earth.
- King of the Hill: Lampshaded through a realization by Luanne. Hank gets angry that Luanne is violating numerous rules through the agreement that he made with her, for her to stay in Hank's house. Later, she gets an apartment together with some roommates, but they are boorish, rude, and apathetic to their house responsibilities. When she thinks about it for a second, she realizes that she is turning into Hank. (Similarly, she was just as frustrated about her roommates not picking up the slack, as Hank was about her.)