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"If anything and everything in a story can be theoretically altered with absolutely no in-universe constraints whatsoever—bound only to the whims of the writers themselves—then why does anything that happens in the story matter?"
State of the Arc Podcast, "The Problem with Time-Travel"
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In Speculative Fiction, time travel, shapeshifters, robot duplicates, clones, resurrection, alternate universes, and mind manipulation can be exciting and add a layer of ambiguity and suspense to a story. They can fill characters and viewers with paranoia and make for great shocking revelations. However, they can also lead fans into a forest of Epileptic Trees, and in so doing completely derail the story and kill all drama. The problem stems from the possibility that: if characters can be brought back to life, or if imposters, time-travelers, and illusory sequences can be used to make and unmake plot points at whim, how can viewers be sure that any given story element is permanent?

Or, to put it in other words: Nothing is at stake if there is no guarantee of consequences.

It's an unfortunate outcome of the Second Law of Metafictional Thermodynamics, which dictates that because writers need conflict in their stories, they cannot resist destroying their worlds and killing off characters in order to create said conflict. If they keep doing that however, they'll eventually run out of things to destroy. So to keep their universe alive, the author opens up the proverbial can of clones. This allows them to walk back their plot points, and in theory, they can keep the story going indefinitely—resetting things every time they run out of characters to kill off. The problem however is that audiences tend to be once-bitten, twice-shy. After a while, no matter how much the writer insists that this time, honest to God, the character has been Killed Off for Real, the audience will never believe them. And then, the next time a character's life is threatened, the audience won't even care, because Death Is Cheap.

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What happens next is that audiences become skeptical of all the plot devices that can be exploited in this manner even the first time they're introduced, especially if the work had already gone a fair length of time without them. There's a sort of unspoken assumption that the moment you start resurrecting the dead, travelling through time, or exploring alternate universes, then nothing which happens in your story matters anymore and so the work can only go downhill from there.

A few things that may cause viewers to stop taking your story at face-value:

So we've offered a few ways to avoid this reaction:

  • Make rules for your universe and stick to them. Audiences are more likely to accept a plot twist if it's consistent with the universe they know. If you're breaking out the mechanism behind your twist for the first time when it's introduced, it looks a lot more like an Ass Pull.
  • Use those rules to impose limitations. If there's pretty much no limit to what a shapeshifter, clonemaker, illusionist, time-traveller or other wizard can do, the audience is going to assume that they'll always be able to change whatever the author wants. If there's a limitation of some kind, however, the audience is going to be on the lookout for the holes in those abilities. It can even add another layer of enjoyment for the audience, as they can try to Spot the Thread (especially if they can do it before the characters). A particularly effective limitation is if It Only Works Once, adding dramatic tension, and easily preventing those abilities from becoming a Story-Breaker Power.
  • Include a Meta Guy or Audience Surrogate, with the same Genre Savvy as the audience. If your setting is established to have shapeshifters, clones, or illusionists, then good world-building would establish that the characters know about these things, too, and would become just as skeptical as the audience. How do high-status leaders like kings and generals avoid being tricked or replaced? They might become Properly Paranoid and prone to mind games with their adversaries, and they may even be able to set up countermeasures to spot fakes like a Trust Password.
  • Give Shapeshifters and illusory sequences a tell. The characters may not be able to see through it, but at least the audience has a definitive way of determining who or what is real and who or what is not. You could make it very difficult for a shapeshifter to copy someone 100% accurately, either physically or in personality. Or you could have them revert to their true form once they die. Illusory sequences can be given a different visual or physical aesthetic which makes them immediately distinguishable from "real" sequences.
  • Add ramifications to bringing a character Back from the Dead. If there's a risk that they Came Back Wrong, the character's "death" still has lasting repercussions for the story.
  • If you insist on bringing characters Back from the Dead, at least establish conditions under which that's impossible and the character is Killed Off for Real. Perhaps you can find a way to make a character Deader Than Dead.

This trope was most common in The '90s, with all kinds of works in all kinds of media pulling it and then not knowing what to do with it afterwards. It's the kind of thing often associated with Comic Books of the era (The Death of Superman and The Clone Saga are often cited), but you also saw it in mainstream films (e.g. Alien: Resurrection, The 6th Day), TV series (e.g. The X-Files) and video games (e.g. Metal Gear Solid). That was also when the trope became particularly associated with clones—works of the era had a tendency to introduce multiple clones; which were so pervasive that no character could tell if anyone was the genuine article—not even the character themself. Time Travel was a close second, because once characters had free rein to start hopping through time, audiences no longer had any assurance that any given plot point would not be RetGoned later by some future (or past) time travel shenanigans.

As we're talking about Plot Twists, spoilers ahoy!


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Averted in A Certain Scientific Railgun and A Certain Magical Index: The Radio Noise Sisters are told that they are all very expendable, and for a long time they are treated as such. But after the hero rescues them, each individual clone starts to treat themselves as individuals who have lives worth living.
  • Dragon Ball has been having to deal with this for years, due to the franchise having accumulated such a vast pile of instant solutions. Death Is Cheap is taken to extremes, with almost every character having died at least once (by a later arc of Z, Piccolo is able to suggest a villain kill everyone on Earth because it has no meaning), and there are countless plot devices that allow tension to be instantly dissolved, such as the immediate healing abilities of the senzu beans or the ability to immediately pack in training in the Room of Spirit and Time. Additionally, despite the series being the Trope Codifier for Power Levels, its own powerscaling is notoriously wonky, with characters able to jump up to absurd levels of strength with even the barest amount of training and even relatively weak characters boasting planet-busting power. It's often noted that several arcs have to fall deep into Idiot Plot territory because the plot simply wouldn't work if the characters actually tried using the resources at their disposal.
  • Used to a very confusing effect in Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-. Some are aware of being a clone, others are not, but given all the alternate world versions of characters, cloning, and lineages, it can become very hard to follow.
  • Blue Drop: The Emul Force allows the user to project their thoughts, creating living sculptures. It's used as a decoy countless times, and every major character death gets undone this way.
  • Naruto was never very good with this, in part because there were so many ways to fool people with hitherto unseen Ninjutsu. And since these guys are ninjas, they've got all sorts of disguise techniques, including clones. Over the course of the series, so many parties are using clones that some enemies need to be beaten more than twice, and there's a huge Gambit Pileup as the different sides start using clones against each other, so no one knows who's real and who's not.
    • Several chapters after Kisame's original is believed to have been killed, he's revealed to be alive, and the thing that died was really a clone created by Zetsu. Although that type of clone is pretty weird and unique, it still contradicted pretty much everything previously established about how clones worked in the series. It was pretty clearly an Ass Pull in response to negative fan reaction to his death.
    • The entire first portion of the battle between Sasuke and Itachi involved both combatants just standing still and staring at each other — it was an illusion battle! The only reason we even have to believe that the real fight even happened is that Zetsu, an unrelated third party, appears sticking out of a wall to tell us that the fight is really happening — one party isn't just fooling the other.
    • It also lends itself to easy Superdickery. At several points, one guy appears to turn on his teammates and attack them — and he's revealed to be an imposter. At one point, Iruka detects an imposter while disguised as Naruto because the imposter disguised himself as Iruka. And the real Naruto was watching the whole thing. And that's actually a relatively simple case.

    Comic Books 
In comics, it seems like the Can of Clones is a matter of course, to the point that The Other Wiki even has a page for it. Characters have been killed off and brought back so many times that, whenever someone dies, fans are only left asking, "How long before they come back?" There's a longstanding saying in comics: "No one stays dead except Bucky, Jason Todd, and Uncle Ben." (And two of those three have since come back to life.) The main reason why this trope is so pervasive in comics is because the serialized format of the medium forbids overarching stories from concluding: while individual arcs are allowed to end, the series overall is meant to go on forever, and publishers will gladly hand the writing duties off from one artist to the next. Thus, comic books are forced to "reset" every time an individual arc ends, as one writer's decision to kill off characters and worlds can leave the next writer without narrative resources to draw on.
  • Blackest Night was an attempt to avert this, as DC claimed it closed the door to future resurrections. It didn't close the door to reboots, though, and the rebooted New 52 brought with it a few characters who came back to life without explanation.
  • In one Astro City story, a defense lawyer gets a gangster acquitted of a murder charge by invoking this trope, citing incidents involving Evil Twins from parallel universes and shapeshifting supervillains. (The lawyer making the argument is Genre Savvy enough to realise that this argument will only work once - it's going to set a precedent that's going to lead to changes in the law in order to prevent it being used as one, and the epilogue to the story notes that this is exactly what happens.)
  • X-Men:
    • Professor X apparently dies during a battle against Grotesk. Later it's revealed that the Changeling had been masquerading as Professor X at Xavier's request.
    • Jean Grey a.k.a "Phoenix" apparently kills herself so she can't go Dark Phoenix again at the end of The Dark Phoenix Saga. It later turns out to have been the Phoenix Force impersonating the real Jean Grey. (Sometimes. It gets retconned back and forth all the time.)
  • Marvel Comics' S.H.I.E.L.D. has something called LMDs: Life Model Decoys. Whenever Nick Fury dies, don't worry, it was an LMD. Even when he got Killed Off for Real, at his funeral, the other characters even speculate as to whether he's really dead, and Wolverine had to use his Super Senses to confirm it was the real deal. And then that turned out to be an LMD. As of Original Sin, it's confirmed that none of the modern Fury examples are the real him — he's much older than people think, and he hadn't show up since World War II before that event.
  • Doctor Doom can always come back, because any time he appears to have been defeated (or been responsible for anything the fans don't want to acknowledge), it turns out it was Actually a Doombot. It's so overused that it's long been lampshaded, with fans semi-jokingly claiming that the real Dr. Doom has never actually appeared in any Marvel comic. Even per Word of God, the only time Doom was ever actually defeated was by Squirrel Girl — and he'll Never Live It Down.
  • Thanos, the Big Bad in the Marvel Universe, has clones called Thanosi. Thanos's creator Jim Starlin introduced them in Infinity Abyss to explain away any defeats or Out of Character behaviour that Thanos might suffer (which, purely coincidentally, are almost always written by writers other than Starlin). Starlin has even gone so far as to say that not even omnipotent cosmic observer the Watcher can tell the difference between a Thanosi and the real Thanos.
  • Secret Invasion: Skrulls did it. To the entire Marvelverse. Lampshaded when Spidey complains that he had clones way before everyone else was getting replaced by Skrulls.
  • Lampshaded in Star Wars Legends with Dark Empire. Basically every time Luke kills a Palpatine clone, he transfers his soul to another clone. Luke pretends to go over to the Dark Side to try and stop him and ends up turning for real.
  • Spider-Man has done so much with clones, it's hard to tell which one's the original anymore. There's technically two whole "Clone Sagas"!
    • The original Clone Saga, printed in The '70s, took place immediately after Spidey couldn't save Gwen. While it was a powerful story, Stan Lee was worried that smaller kids wouldn't be able to handle a character being Killed Off for Real, so he told Gerry Conway to find a way to bring her back. Conway was reluctant, as by then Peter had moved on and was in a relationship with Mary Jane. He used the opportunity to make a story where Peter has to grapple with his feelings of loss and grief, and Gwen has to come to terms with her old boyfriend having moved on and become a different person. That story was delivered with an intended one-shot villain, the Jackal, making clones of both Gwen and Peter, and after some Cloning Blues, the real Peter figures out he's the real deal because he's the only one who's in love with MJ.
    • The second Clone Saga, written in The '90s, was a response to Knightfall, in which Batman was knocked out of commission and replaced with Azrael, a very different character. Seeking their own version of a Legacy Character, the Marvel writers decided to bring back the clones — but the marketing people wanted to stretch out what was originally a six-month plot to last several years. That led the writers to bring back the clone Gwen (alive), the clone Spider-Man (dead, but alive now because we say so), and the Jackal (dead, but cloned). They also added a menagerie of new clones, including two Scarlet Spiders named Ben and Kaine. This crossover event, spanning across four titles and countless mini-series, accomplished a whole lot of nothing. Nobody knew what was going on, nobody knew who was who, and unlike the "original" Clone Saga, the ending was ambiguous. Most of the clones died, but two (Gwen and Jackal) came back again for Spider-Island. Kaine is still running around doing nothing of particular note.
      Glenn Greenberg (editor/writer): Okay, at this point, the Spider-Man books were in danger of becoming like that old Marx Brothers movie where everyone was running around dressed like Groucho.

    Film 
  • Subverted in Avengers: Endgame. Doctor Strange introduced multiverse theory into the MCU, and while the heroes are indeed able to use time-travel, Banner explicitly clarifies that they cannot change their present by altering the past, as any changes made will only create branching universes which have no effect on their own. This in turn means that, while the heroes could theoretically bring Tony Stark or Natasha Romanoff back from the dead— as ends up being the case with 2014 Gamora—they would only be alternate universe counterparts who would in turn have to leave their old universe(s) behind. Additionally, it's established in Infinity War that the Endgame universe is the only one of 14 million in which half of all life (including the heroes) don't all get killed by Thanos' finger-snap, thus helping to prevent them becoming disposable in the minds of the audience.
  • This has been done so badly to the Terminator franchise that it could very well be one of the main reasons why Dark Fate flopped at the box office. The series as whole never got around to providing a clear and consistent set of rules for how the Time Travel logistics would work, with each new film repeatedly trying to Retcon the rules which appeared to have been established by the last one. According to Word of God, the series was always supposed to take place in a changeable timeline, as the first film was originally going to conclude with the heroes successfully stopping the birth of Skynet and rewriting history. Unfortunately, budget constraints forced James Cameron to save that spectacular climax for the sequel, with the original instead ending with a Stable Time Loop wherein both John Connor's birth and the rise of Skynet were declared inevitable. So when the second film did show the heroes preventing the rise of Skynet, it made it look like the movies just had inconsistent rules regarding time travel. This was easy to forgive at the time, because the heroes' victory made for an excellent finale, whilst the idea of Kyle and Sarah being destined to conceive humanity's savior made for a great love story—even if those two plot points seemed to contradict one another. So when the third film came along and declared that the rise of Skynet really was inevitable, many fans decried it as an Ass Pull that rendered everything that happened in the previous film pointless. The fifth film then tried to remedy this problem by undoing the events of all four previous movies and soft-rebooting the franchise, but this only made matters worse. So by the time the sixth film tried to bill itself as a direct sequel to the second while also having the war with the machines be spearheaded by a new artificial intelligence called Legion, a lot of fans had become so fatigued by all the retcons that they just didn't care any longer.
  • Star Wars: This has been a slowly growing sticking point for the series for a long time coming, with both the films and the Expanded Universe adding in clone armies, doombots, the force being able to do whatever the plot needs it to do, and the ability to cheat death via vaguely explained Sith magic. However, it really hit the fan in The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, wherein both films upped both the strength and prevalence of these elements to such an extent as to leave many viewers with the sense that nothing was at stake anymore. To wit, Rey becomes proficient with the force despite receiving little to no Jedi training; force ghosts are shown interacting with the material world directly; Luke uses an Astral Projection across light years of space to confront Kylo Ren; Palpatine is brought Back from the Dead via cloning and is seen draining energy from Rey and Kylo to heal his deteriorating body; Rey and Kylo both use Force Healing to save each other from fatal injuries (which deserves special mention seeing as it directly contradicts Anakin's motivation for falling to the dark side in Revenge of the Sith); and physical objects are shown being teleported across systems via spacetime communication. Suffice to say, all these elements combined in such a way as to essentially break the story, and in doing so turned many fans off to the series' future, something which Angry Joe—himself a huge Star Wars fan—noted in his discussion on The Rise of Skywalker:
    Angry Joe: [Force Healing] is a big Plot Hole because of the fact that it completely ruins death. There's no tension anymore. Death is a complete joke in this film. This person dies; comes back. This person dies; comes back. So, you do not give a shit when somebody dies! And not only that, but it completely ruins the series for the future. Like, you've got force ghosts that can do stuff [...], lightning strikes [...], and now we've got force healing [so] nobody can fucking die... I don't want to see episode X! I don't want to see XI; I don't want to see XII! ...They have to go away. They have to go back into the past.
    • Then there's The Critical Drinker's stance on the films:
      Drinker: Another massive problem that hangs over this movie is the Force. See, in the original trilogy, the force was subtle and used sparingly, like when Luke hears Obi Wan Kenobi's voice in his head and later sees his force ghost, or when he uses a force pull to retrieve his lightsaber. And when Palpatine used force lightning for the first time, it was like: "Holy shit! This guy is powerful!" Now it's just been elevated to ridiculous levels! Now, the Force can pluck spaceships out of the sky, heal fatal injuries, host Skype calls, teleport objects across the galaxy, and cast lightning bolts powerful enough to disable entire war fleets. There's no limits, no rules, no indication of what's possible or not, [and] so there's no way to buy into it. This is a world where you have no idea what anyone can do at any given time, and so pretty soon, you just stop caring.

    Literature 
  • Philip K. Dick loved to play with this sort of idea. Several of his stories feature duplicates that are so real that even they don't know they are duplicates. It's confusing and Paranoia Fuel and his fans wouldn't have it any other way.
  • Greg Egan extensively Zig-Zags this trope in virtually all of his stories, which frequently feature future humanities where people variously are, a) robots, or b) disembodied software. Moreover, because of this, many of his characters experience what amounts to an ambiguous form of immortality in cyberspace, and variously either die, kill themselves, or fail to die for huge tracts of time without seriously derailing storylines they're part of. Additionally, many stories feature large numbers of copies of the same characters who gradually grow apart into independent people over the course of the storyline, or simply provide multiple redundancy when characters need to do many things at once, or are likely to die in the doing of something plot-related.
  • A slight variation on the trope has begun to appear in A Song of Ice and Fire with the Faceless Men, an order of assassins who can perfectly imitate just about anyone. This has lead to a lot of fan speculation; the only Faceless Man we've really been able to track is Jaqen H'ghar, who seems to have become an alchemist before becoming Pate as of ADWD. Theories now abound as to who might be a Faceless Man, with contenders including Syrio Forel (who may have become Jaqen H'ghar, The Kindly Man, or Ser Meryn Trant after his alleged death), Varys (explaining his exceptional talent for disguise), the guy who was killed at the Sept of Baelor at the end of the first book (meaning Ned Stark might still be alive...), the Brienne that showed up at the end of ADWD, and many, many, many more.
    • Some of those possibilities are, however, not feasible (however awesome they'd be). The Faceless Men may use something akin to glamour, but it requires a certain key ingredient: a corpse to steal the face and identity of. Also, they will look like the corpse of the person, not the person when they were alive: given how some people can radically change upon death, it's not quite as clone-like as you might think. At best, it's a form of really sophisticated Dead Person Impersonation or Kill and Replace. Even if, as in the case of Pate "the pig boy", they go for as fresh a corpse as possible of somebody they've been tailing for a while, they'll still not quite be right to look at, if you knew the person well before they died. (Faceless Men seem to target those who are foreigners, strangers, generally undervalued or who were always on the periphery of the place they're in — yet, with valid enough reasons for access. In short, people other people don't get that close to, in the main.)
  • In Dune, the Tleilaxu Ghola tanks produce a variation of clones (cells harvested after death, and the ghola has the memories of the original, including that death). Over the course of the series, Duncan Idaho becomes, all by himself, a can of clones.
    • The Tleilaxu Face Dancers fit this somewhat as well, being able to impersonate essentially anyone.
  • During the first book of Mistborn: The Original Trilogy, one of the side characters is an imposter that Kelsier set up for his scam; and the end of the book reveals that he's a member of a race of shapeshifters skilled in impersonation. Naturally, book two, The Well of Ascension, involves an "a shapeshifter has infiltrated our ranks" plot. This was partly to tie in with the book's themes of trust, and partly because (as noted in an online set of annotations):
    Brandon Sanderson: You don’t just put in a race of shapeshifters then ignore the tension of people wondering if someone they know has been replaced. That would just be irresponsible.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Alias introduced cloning in the form of "Project Helix", a process by which identical Doppelgangers of people could be produced. The first double was a one-off character, but the second double was a complete shocker: it was Sydney's best friend, Francie. The double was a very unique twist . . . at first. Then, they brought back the double-switch when someone cloned Arvin Sloane, again later in season four when it was revealed that the woman Jack killed in Vienna wasn't Irina Derevko, it was a double of her and again in season five when Anna Espinosa became a double of Sydney. It got to the point where a common saying in regards to the show was "they're not dead even if we've seen a body - it's probably a clone".
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) got hit with this right from the bat. Even though there were only 12 Cylon models, you could never be quite sure which version of the model you were talking to. Especially the Sixes and Eights:
    • Number Six: Caprica Six, Head!Six, Gina Inviere, Natalie Faust, Shelly Godfrey, the Six on the Armistice Station, LabCoat!Six, the Six who headed "The Farm", the dying Six on the basestar, Lida, Sonja, and Prostitute!Six from "The Plan".
    • Number Eight: Sharon "Boomer" Valerii, Sharon "Athena" Agathon, the Eight on Ragnar, WhiteCoat!Eight that Athena kills, the many naked tai chi Eights, the dying Eight on the basestar, the unplugged!Eight Anders talks to, the dying Eight Saul Tigh forgives, the Eight who resurrects D'Anna, Cynical!Eight from "Face of the Enemy", Sweet!Eight who betrays Gaeta, and the Eight who connects Anders to the data stream so that he can become Galactica's hybrid.
  • Misfits started to suffer from this in the second season, as Curtis has the ability to rewind time if he feels enough guilt towards something that has happened, giving him a chance to Set Right What Once Went Wrong. So when the Misfits Discard and Draw new powers during the Christmas Episode season finale, the show explicitly removes this power from play.
  • Sherlock: The show's penchant for elaborate segments taking place inside the titular detective's "mind palace", or simply hallucinations, ended up working against it in the long run, as fans begun to dismiss any aspect of the show they didn't like as not real. Thus, there was belief that the very divisive series finale was a Bait-and-Switch, and many fans began searching for clues of a secret real final episode that would be released later. Naturally, these theories were incorrect.
  • The X-Files had a few, that due to alien involvement usually had green blood. Most notable character with plenty of clones was Mulder's sister Samantha.

    Podcasts 
  • This podcast provides the page quote.
    Mike: There is something, I think, really true here, that- ...that Time Travel, Multiverse Theory,... These ways that they try to extend a franchise and keep it running, and the way that they open the boundaries and remove the limitations, the less conflict it feels like it has—the less it feels like anything matters, and the more boring it becomes, ultimately as a result.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Paranoia offsets its casual lethality somewhat by the fact that characters come in "six-packs": the original and five additional clones held offstage in readiness for the PC's imminent demise. In at least one published adventure, GMs are encouraged to use this replacement feature as a need for additional replacements (since the PCs are "Outside" at this point, clone replacements must be supplied by a Ballistic Sub-Orbital Clone Replacement Mechanism). If a party member has been killed and you hear a descending whistle, duck.

    Video Games 
  • In Hitman: Codename 47, the hitman's clone origin is made evident fairly early on. The assigned targets are all men with a strong resemblance to 47, who are still in correspondence with each other, and are shown conferring over 47's body in flashbacks. The last mission packs 47 off to his old laboratory in Romania, where his "fathers" combined their DNA to create a clone of themselves for organ harvesting purposes. The twist at the end is there's a fifth father, the director of the lab, who has already mass-produced 25 superior "Mr. 48s" to spring on you once you arrive in the final basement.
    • Later games featured more clones, each of them tangentially related to the 47 model. In Silent Assassin, a prototype hitman named Mr. 17 is assigned to kill his brother. In Blood Money, 47 is assigned to kill two albinos, both of them flawed attempts to recreate the original Ortmeyer blueprint. The clone plot seems to be put to rest as of Absolution.
  • The King of Fighters '99, the opening chapter of the NESTS saga, introduced a secret conspiracy to clone Kyo Kusanagi and raise an unstoppable Clone Army. Basically, this is an excuse to replace Kyo with his brooding white-haired "brother", K', followed by a pile of rejected clone caca (and Tetsuo Shima Captain Ersatz) called K9999 in 2001. Zero, the Final Boss of 2000 and a mouthpiece for NESTS (but not really), is revealed to be a clone of the original, who shows up in the next game as a sub-boss and is not too happy about his clone's treacherous ways. Again, this was necessitated by the first Zero (and his "fart" attacks) not going over well with fans, and he was replaced with a more stereotypical (yet admirably loyal) white-haired version. Despite rocky beginnings, the NESTS saga is remembered with morbid affection by fans even as SNK seems content to sweep it under the rug for all time.
  • Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2 had far-reaching consequences for the franchise. In an expository cutscene, Snake retcons the ending of Metal Gear 2 by revealing Big Boss was actually his father; the antagonist of the game, Liquid Snake, clarifies that Big Boss was his genetic template and that he and Liquid are both copies of him. MGS2 introduced a third clone survivor, Solidus Snake, who was considered to be the best of the lot despite suffering from rapid aging. The government mothballed the project after Liquid Snake attempted a world takeover by planting Big Boss' frozen cells into a "Genome Army" of sorts.
  • This trope is one of Yahtzee's main criticisms of Mortal Kombat—despite the series' trademark high-impact violence, the actual stories suffer from a general lack of stakes and/or weight due to the overabundance of retcons, continuity reboots, and the ease with which characters can be brought from the dead, etc.
    Yahtzee: The official message of Mortal Kombat 11's story mode is, "Fuck continuity and fuck anyone who is invested in it!" You probably should've known not to get invested after MK9; I mean, any franchise that so openly and deliberately flushes its entire canon down the toilet is almost certainly going to keep doing it, and indeed, the endpoint of the MK11 story mode all but states that not only is everything reset yet again, but no future continuity is going to have any permanence either!

    Webcomics 
  • Darths & Droids notes the wasted potential that the proven existence of shapeshifters has in the Star Wars saga in the commentary of one strip. And again with shapeshifters and clones in an outtake strip, though Star Wars itself averts problems with the latter by establishing that Clones Are People, Too and only physically identical to the original, not mentally.
    • The comic later backs up its comments by actually taking advantage of the existence of shapeshifters: In the strips corresponding to A New Hope, the Harrison Ford character steals the "Han Solo" identity from an NPC he kills (the movie's Greedo). He's allowed to get away with it in front of Jabba - for now - because the GM establishes that the original Han was a shapeshifter, and Jabba assumes he's talking to the original in a human form.
    • Later in A New Hope, we discover a rebel pilot who was referred to as Wedge Antilles in the Star Wars movies, and played by Colin Higgins. But Higgins was later replaced by Denis Lawson, resulting in Wedge having a different face in the assault on the Death Star. 'Darths & Droids'' plays with it, arguing that Wedge is a Shapeshifter too, which serves the plot for it leads Luke to suspect that he is the traitor who revealed to the Empire the location of the rebel base during the Battle of Yavin and almost the whole The Empire Strikes Back story arc. He was not.
  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja cleverly avoids this problem by having all of the cheap clones of Doc that Franz Rayner commissions be flawed and eventually disintegrate. However, there's one original clone left over, raising the stakes on the Like You Would Really Do It cliffhangers that the author frequently employs.

    Web Original 

    Web Videos 
  • In the French Web Serie Le Visiteur du Futur, the Dr. Henry Castafolte has been duplicated many times by creatures between clones and robots. The only way for them to find out what they really are is to see the barcode tattoo on their arm.

    Western Animation 
  • Frequently Lampshaded in The Venture Bros. whenever it is revealed that Dr. Venture's sons Hank and Dean can be replaced with one of many clones, taken from a bank of clone storage tanks beneath the Venture Compound, whenever the boys die.
    Dr. Venture: Look, if you have a clumsy kid, you make them wear a helmet. When you have death prone children, you keep a few clones in the lab.
    • This also explains why they give the impression of having been dropped on their heads several times as babies-Dr. Venture has to keep giving the replacements the memories from the previous pair, and whatever method he's using to do it, the effectiveness is kind of sketchy.
    • Up until the finale of season 3, when the whole herd of Hank and Dean clones is wiped out.
  • Gargoyles' creator Greg Weissman tells in 'Ask Greg' of how his children thought Elisa was acting bad in the episode "Protection" because it was a clone, given that an earlier episode had introduced a clone of Goliath. (She was actually pretending to be a Dirty Cop to fool a mob boss.)
    • At least in the show itself they avoid this by having clones be a Palette Swap of the original instead of an exact physical match.
  • Futurama's season opener "Rebirth" opened with the entire cast except Prof. Farnsworth being mutilated in a horrible shipwreck. Farnsworth dumps the remains into a vat of "adult stem cells harvested from perfectly normal adults whom he killed for their stem cells" and reincarnates his entire team. Later, after most of the episode was centered around Cloning Blues via a robot double of Leela, it turns out that Fry wasn't really reborn, but is actually a robot double himself.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • The show inadvertently did this with the introduction of changelings in the second season finale. Naturally, it caused an explosion of "X is secretly a changeling" type stories in the fandom. A positive side of it is it also helped explain away "clones" in scenes of episodes, that is where the animators reused models in crowds to save time resulting in scenes where as many as six of the same character would be visible — fans (and even the staff) have joked on more than one occasion that said "clones" are actually changeling spies and definitely not the animators cutting corners *wink wink*.
    • The season 3 episode "Too Many Pinkie Pies" was about Pinkie discovering a magical pond that allowed her to create (extremely one-dimensional) clones of herself. This time around, the implications were addressed, as the cast is shown blocking up the pool at the end of the episode so that there won't be any more clones. And then a later episode undid that by showing another Pinkie Pie in the background who actually reacts to Pinkie Pie bringing up the Mirror Pool clones, revealing at least one of them survived and escaped...
  • Averted in Transformers: Prime; one first-season episode introduces the villain Makeshift, who could perfectly imitate any other Transformer. He didn't even need to see his victim to do it! The writers then realized that they had created a character who posed far too much of a threat to the heroes and who would dominate the story going forward if allowed to survive, and so they killed him off at the end of his introductory episode.

    Real Life 
  • The psychology behind this trope is the very reason why the English word "consequence" is also a synonym for "importance." (i.e., "It is of no consequence.")

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