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Not So Episodic

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A plot structure where the story starts off seemingly episodically, with apparently unrelated Monster of the Week assignments for the heroes to tackle as they establish themselves and their world. Then, either at the end of Act I or half-way through the story, The Reveal comes that a well-hidden Man Behind the Man has been putting those "unrelated" events in motion all along, and the rest of the story becomes dominated by the heroes struggle against this overarching villain.

Arc Welding is similar, but involves a Retcon of the originally genuinely standalone episodes into a new Myth Arc. Compare also Continuity Creep, where an episodic plot gains more and more continuity without necessarily incorporating early episodes into it; and Connected All Along, which is about characters and their relationships (rather than plot events) being interconnected. Also see Innocuously Important Episode.

As a reveal trope, this one is Spoilered Rotten, so beware.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Madlax starts off with about eight episodes alternating between two seemingly unrelated main characters getting into seemingly unrelated predicaments. By the series' midpoint, it turns out that every early episode (even — nay, particularly — the Beach Episode) has set up specific plot points regarding the overarching myth arc.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist starts off looking like it will be a road story about the Elric brothers visiting various Adventure Towns and Wacky Wayside Tribes while trying to restore Alphonse's body. Around the time of the first encounter with Scar, however, it becomes clear there's a much bigger plot afoot and that many of the previous misadventures were more important than they seemed.

  • In The Garden of Sinners, most of the seemingly unrelated cases the Garan-no-dou agency investigates in the early episodes (as well as, to a lesser degree, Shiki's car accident) are revealed to have been the handiwork of Buddhist monk-turned-Mad Scientist Araya Souren, half-way through the series. Even after Shiki kills him, two more chapters are devoted to cleaning up the mess left behind after his master plan was foiled.
  • The early books in The Dresden Files were very episodic and none of the characters thought to ask whether the individual cases were connected, given how different in nature they were. Then, in Proven Guilty, they realized that a shadowy conspiracy they dubbed "the Black Council" must have been involved in all of them. Word of God is that the entire 20-volume arc has been planned from the start, so it was definitely intentional.
  • Much of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone feels like a series of unconnected vignettes about life at Hogwarts. At the end, nearly everything that happened is shown to be relevant to the conflict with Voldemort over the Philosopher's Stone.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5, since it began before shows with arc-stories really took off, started with more or less self-contained episodic plots, especially in the first part of the first season, but a lot of them laid a foundation from which the later arc-heavy episodes would build on.
  • Farscape's first season is mostly Monster of the Week episodes (with the background drive of Bialar Crais's pursuit of the protagonists to push things along), but beginning with the introduction of Scorpius in "Nerve", things started to get a lot tighter around the Myth Arc. This culminates in the Season 2 three-parter "Liars, Guns, and Money" which brings back a whole slew of characters from the Monster of the Week episodes for a massive Gambit Pileup.
  • Fringe starts off as a "Lighter and Softer X-Files" with a Monster of the Week format. The ongoing plot arc doesn't really get going until late in season 2 — but after that, the writers have great fun referring back to the events of the early episodes (which can be done in creative ways as the arc involves Parallel Universes).
  • Haven's first season runs on Monster of the Week episodes held together by a loose background mystery. Even with the huge Plot Twist at the end of season one, that Audrey has Fake Memories and the Identical Stranger she thought was her mother was actually her, the show doesn't really get through Growing the Beard until season 3, when they decide to do something with all the mythos lying around and the show acquires a proper Big Bad. It does, however, make for jarring binge-watching, since the first two seasons are campy sci-fi while the last three are much darker.

  • The Magnus Archives begins as a series of seemingly unrelated stories of paranormal happenings- though a couple of names tend to pop up with some frequency, the tales are mostly self-contained. Until one of those reoccurring players begins harassing the Archives...

    Video Games 
  • Avadon starts off with your Player Party pursuing and dealing with several seemingly unrelated threats to the title fortress, before discovering a single guiding hand behind all of them and spending the rest of the game combating it.
  • The first act of Dragon Age II consists of a bunch of disparate side quests that seem to be only connected by the "Hawke needs to make ends meet" thread. Come acts two and three, and nearly everything in act one turns out to be a setup for or a foreshadowing of the Qunari or the Mage-Templar storyline.

    Visual Novels 
  • Most Ace Attorney games are episodic affairs, split into four, five, or six self-contained cases linked only through the prosecutor. However, a few games are initially set up in this manner, only to reveal that the cases are more linked than they initially seem.
    • In the first Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth game, the first three cases involve a murder of a detective, an interpol agent, and a butler, as well as a kidnapping. All three of the culprits turn out to be connected to a foreign smuggling ring run by the Big Bad (though the third one only tangentially), and the last two cases bring the pursuit of this criminal to the forefront.
    • In second game in the Investigations duology, the connections between each case are very subtle until the very end, leading them to feel like Monster of the Week plots at first. As a rundown:
      • Case 1: The President of Zheng Fa? Actually a body double who killed the real one and took over. One of his bodyguards? The Big Bad's childhood friend, whom, unbeknownst to him, said Big Bad now hates, which is why he pushed him into murdering a fellow bodyguard. The totally-not-an-assassin ice cream salesman? Hired by the Big Bad to kill the fake president.
      • Case 2: An ex-assassin inmate in the prison's high-security wing? The Big Bad's Parental Substitute due to the past event detailed in Case 5. The animal tamer at the circus? The game's Big Bad, and the one behind everything. The prison warden? Part of a conspiracy involving the fake president, which is why the Big Bad sets her up to murder Case 1's killer.
      • Case 3: The victim from the past? Father of Case 1's killer, but the Big Bad mistakenly thinks he's his father. A witness from the past who appears, much older, in the present? The Big Bad's REAL father, and fleeing the country after committing a murder resulted in the Big Bad being put in an Orphanage of Fear, which led to him witnessing an assassination.
      • Case 4: The senile old coroner? Involved in Manfred von Karma's evidence forgery. The head of the Prosecutorial Investigation Committee? Part of the evidence forgery coverup in Case 3, and also the third part of the fake president conspiracy, who murdered multiple witnesses to keep them quiet.
      • Case 5: The Adorably Precocious Child? Biological son of the real president of Zheng Fa. This case's victim? The fake president from Case 1, here killed by the Big Bad. The SS-5 incident? The assassination of the real president of Zheng Fa, which took place at the orphanage the Big Bad was at, which was run by the warden from Case 2. The Big Bad witnessed the president's murder as a child, and saved the hired assassin when the conspirators planned to go Contract on the Hitman. This led to his extreme misanthropy, and his elaborate plot to make the three conspirators lives' hell by any means necessary.
    • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, the second, fourth, and sixth cases are self-contained, but the first and third cases are both perpetrated by agents of the Kingdom of Khura'in dictatorship (albeit post-humously in the third), which leads to the fifth case, a two-part case where the heroes have to dismantle a conspiracy by the monarchy.
    • The Great Ace Attorney is unique among Ace Attorney games in that every single case in the duology is the result of the machinations of the Reaper of the Bailey, Mael Stronghart.
      • The first cases of both games: the culprit of the GAA1 first case, Jezaille Brett, was sent by Stronghart to kill John H. Wilson to keep him quiet, while the GAA2 culprit, Raiten Menimemo, killed Brett to stop her from fleeing to Britain and getting away with her murder.
      • The second case of the first game: Stronghart planned for Kazuma to kill Inspector Gregson, and so Sholmes tricked Ryunosuke and Susato into thinking that Kazuma was dead to prevent him from carrying out his mission.
      • The third and fifth cases of the first game: the government secret that McGilded planned on selling and murdered Mason over — which in turn led to Mason's son Ashley killing him — was a list pertaining to Stronghart's assassination of Wilson and Gregson.
      • The fourth case of the first game and second case of the second game: Shamspeare murdered Duncan Ross and tried to kill Soseki Natsume because they were occupying the room with Selden's secret treasure — a dog collar belonging to the Professor, Klink Van Zieks, who's murders were on orders of Stronghart. In turn, Duncan's fiancee Olive Green set out to interrogate and kill Shamspeare — and led her to walk in the street where she got stabbed by the Garrideb's knife, leading to Natsume being accused of attacking her.
      • The third case of the second game: Courtney Sithe, right-hand woman of Stronghart, plotted with Enoch Drebbler to murder Odie Asman in part to cover up her faking the execution of Genshin Asogi, which she did under Stronghart's orders.
      • The fourth and fifth case of the second game: Gregson was killed by Seishiro Jigoku, an associate of Stronghart, to keep him from blabbing about the conspiracy.

    Western Animation 
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks:
    • The season 1 episode "Crisis Point” starts off with Mariner getting sent to the psychiatrist and later hijacking Boimler’s hologram program to make a movie to maul the rest of the crew for stress relief. This ends up dovetailing into Mariner confronting her Military Maverick attitude and Boimler learning Mariner and Captain Freeman were related, which plays into the final episode.
    • The season 2 episode "wej Duj" starts off as a seeming Lower-Deck Episode (yes, for a show already about lower decks) on three different ships (the Cerritos, the Klingon Bird-of-Prey Che'ta', and the Vulcan cruiser Sh'vhal). Except all three storylines eventually converge and serve as The Reveal of the season's plot arc. Just for fun, they also show brief scenes on the lower decks of a Pakled clumpship (showing Pakleds talking about food) and a Borg cube (showing regenerating drones).
    • Season 3 episode "Trusted Sources" starts off with Captain Freeman ordering everyone to get ready for a reporter to come onboard the ship, only to turn around and become a Wham Episode as Mariner’s Character Development is rendered All for Nothing as Freeman accuses Mariner of trying to ruin her reputation and transfers her to Starbase 80, only for Mariner to quit Starfleet and lead Freeman to try and find her daughter to fix things.
  • Steven Universe starts off with the simple, goofy one-episode conflicts typical of children's shows, but steadily drops hints about the Crystal Gems' backstory and the nature of their kind. Then at the end of the first season it's revealed that there are other gems who have sinister plots regarding the Earth. Now there's rarely an episode that doesn't contribute in some way to the Homeworld Gems storyline or someone's Character Development/Hidden Depths, though there are still a few.
  • Transformers: Prime had a couple of episodes in the first season where they find artifacts that originated from Cybertron. They seemed like isolated incidences, with some of the artifacts destroyed by the end. But the second season reveals these artifacts were sent to Earth as part of a long term plan by Alpha Trion, which ties in directly with the Myth Arc of the season.
  • The first season of Wander over Yonder is all light-hearted one-off stories. Season two introduces Lord Dominator, and each episode deals with her threat in some way or another. Even in episodes when she doesn't appear, she is mentioned at least once as someone that needs to be dealt with.
  • The first season of What If…? (2021) begins with several independent Alternate Universe stories, which are tied together in the final episodes when Uatu recruits a team from various timelines to stop Ultron from laying waste to the entire multiverse.