Follow TV Tropes


The Bus Came Back

Go To
Only two more seasons until they're back on the bus again.

"After months and months of rumors, flat-out denials, and almost certainly some begging by the producers, Michael Rosenbaum has agreed to reprise his role as Lex Luthor for the series finale of Smallville. When asked why he finally relented after refusing to return for so long, the actor explained that someone reminded him he was Michael fucking Rosenbaum, and what the fuck else did he have going on."

After a main character gets written out of a story (either explicitly or with no explanation), we often never see them again. This trope is about when they return once again, to work with the current main characters.

This works several ways: we may get to find out what they've been up to, and then they go back to whatever it was; or it's used as a way to advance their character development even though they're no longer on the show.

So what happens next? Sometimes (particularly in live-action media where shooting schedules and prior commitments can keep an actor from returning full-time), at the end of the episode, the character ends up on a different, longer bus. In other cases, the character in question returns for good and resumes their major role. This can happen when the character's been an Ensemble Dark Horse and the authors are either trying to fix the removal that was controversial in the first place, or simply attempt to win some favors from the fans. In this case, the character has all the chances to turn into a Spotlight-Stealing Squad.

It might be that it's a show with a lot of characters and this particular one was simply Out of Focus, if maybe a bit too long. It may also occur when an actor recovers from an illness, finishes work elsewhere or when legal issues are resolved. Actresses who go on maternity leave may have their characters written out of a story only to be written back in once the actresses are ready to return.

Often The Bus Came Back is invoked as part of Gondor Calls for Aid, where the main characters bring characters back from the bus to help in a dire situation. Sometimes this even involves bringing back former villains to fight against the current Big Bad, because Even Evil Has Standards. If the returning character suddenly has a new personality or a new actor from the one showcased before, it's respectively either a case of Not as You Know Them or The Other Darrin.

Compare with Commuting on a Bus, where a former major character turns into a recurring guest character (regularly getting on and off a bus). If the character takes the bus and returns in the very same episode (or, despite his plans, never manage to actually take the bus), then he was simply With a Foot on the Bus. Back for the Dead, which is the subtrope where the character dies at the end of the return episode; and Back for the Finale, where a character returns expressly for a show's final episode. Also compare Plot Archaeology, when this trope is applied to an entire story arc. If, on the other hand, a character never comes back even though it'd be easy for the character to return for at least one episode, then it's a Long Bus Trip.

There is a minimum time gap for any examples where the character wasn't explicitly written out. To qualify for the trope, they require an absence of one season for episodic works with seasons, one year for episodic works without seasons, or two sequels for non-episodic works. There's no such waiting period for characters who return after being explicitly Put on a Bus.

Not to be mixed up with He's Back!, which is when a mainstay character recovers from a personal crisis.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Asian Animation 
  • A number of characters in Happy Heroes have returned in later seasons after being absent for a while. For instance, Zelia reappears in Season 12 after only appearing in the earliest five seasons and second movie, and the Wangcai and Miaomei aliens from Season 7 reappear in Season 14.

    Fan Works 
  • Abraxas (Hrodvitnon):
    • Apart from Vivienne Graham, San, and Alan Jonah and some of his mercs; other characters from Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) and other MonsterVerse movies don't appear in the story beyond mentions, dreams and flashbacks until at least the seventh chapter.
    • The Skullcrawlers from Kong: Skull Island unexpectedly enter the story from Chapter 11 onwards.
  • In Flashpoint 2: Advent Solaris, many characters and concepts from the DC Animated Movie Universe that were mentioned but never appeared, were inexplicably absent or just never followed up on show up in full force. Examples being Blackfire (who was implied to exist but never made a formal appearance), Green Arrow (whose sidekick appeared, though he himself didn't), New Genesis (who was confirmed to have existed and given a reason for their absence), and many others.
  • In The Legend of Total Drama Island, an eliminated contestant makes a guest appearance to help with a later challenge.
  • In NUMB3RS story Dont Stay Away From Home For Too Long, Terry makes an appearance after leaving for DC at the end of season one.
  • In the Pony POV Series, Trixie leaves Ponyville at the end of the Gaia Arc, and (minus an appearance in the "Retcon-Struction Blues" special episode) doesn't properly return until the Wedding Arc.
  • Ciel, from Ruby and Nora disappeared for five stories after one scene. She has since returned in “Atlas”, and it’s possible she’ll be a part of the main cast.
  • Inverted in The Universe Doesn't Cheat, since it's a prequel. Lieutenant T'Var, Eleya's operations officer prior to Reshek Gaarra, only made a brief appearance in Bait and Switch before leaving the USS Bajor to take her first command, but is a supporting character here.
  • A total of one "disappeared" character from Fractured, a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands crossover reappears in its sequel Origins. Anna Erickson, a Star Destroyer captain, pops in for a few chapters but isn't seen again after that. Given that there's a whole cruiser load of characters to begin with...
  • In the The Fifth Act Cloud ditches Vincent when the latter proves to be an obstructive ally and the timeline's original Cloud is convinced to stay in Nibelheim. Little Cloud and Vincent join the party both bearing important information about Cloud and Nibelheim.
  • The Ultimate Evil:
    • Nataline "Nat" Homato leaves the story at the end of the Demon Portal arc. Aside from a cameo as a displayed corpse in the Demon World arc, she doesn't reappear until the end of the seventh chapter of the sequel, The Stronger Evil.
    • The Guardian of the Book of Ages, who was last seen at the end of the Demon World arc, is eventually contacted in the 16th chapter of The Stronger Evil for information about Tiamat's whereabouts.
    • Following the Demon World arc, Hsi Wu enters The Stronger Evil a couple of times in Jade's dreams before he returns in flesh and blood in the eleventh chapter. The rest of the Demon Sorcerers return as well when Shendu contacts them in the 21st chapter.
  • In Challenger Jessie, James, and Meowth first appear in the second chapter and don't show up again until the twentieth, six months later in-universe. They explain to Ash that their attempt to rob the Viridian City pokemon center was their very first mission as Team Rocket members and that they went legit after being arrested. They now work as news reporters.
  • A recurring thing in Pokémon: Nova and Antica. The story is bringing back old friends and rivals.
  • The Power Rangers: Dino Thunder fic “Always a Ranger” makes great use of this, as not only does Kim return to Tommy’s life, but most of Tommy’s old Ranger friends drop in to visit him at some point (the only members of Tommy’s old teams who never show up are Trini and Justin, and that’s for the justifiable reason that Trini died a few years ago and Justin is doing top-secret work for the government).
  • The Power Rangers in Space/Mighty Ducks: The Animated Series crossover "Lost and Found" opens with the Astro Megaship crashing into the energy worm that apparently killed Canard and managing to rescue him. The Rangers eventually find the rest of Canard's team when Dragaunus tries to release the rest of his fleet from dimensional limbo and creates a rift that the Astro Megaship can use to enter the Ducks' version of Earth, the two groups banding together to defeat Dragaunus's latest plan before the Rangers return to their world.
  • Used to great extent in AAML: Diamond and Pearl Version; starting with Ash deciding to visit Misty after realising how he feels about her, he immediately arranges to get Charizard back on his team so that he can fly straight to Cerulean, and later chapters include developments such as Haunter permanently joining Ash's team, Ash bringing Sceptile and Snorlax back to his party to fight Paul, and Anabel appearing to face Ash during the Twinleaf Festival.
  • In Chapter 52 of The Parselmouth of Gryffindor, Professor Max, who had been bussed off to Azkaban forty installments earlier (in Chapter 15), finally makes a return.
  • Infinity Crisis:
    • Phil Coulson returns to officially reveal his survival to the Avengers (although they admit they’ve known he was alive for a while now)
    • While en route back to Earth, Stark and Nebula encountered and rescued Valkyrie and Sif
    • Jane Foster comes to the Avengers compound to provide scientific insight
    • The Red Skull returns to Earth, and Thanos also brings back Malekith and Hela.
    • Technically Snart’s cold gun, considering that we last saw it being disassembled by Ray to use its components to disable a bomb; also applies to Mjolnir, which is restored by Thanos on Hela's request (even if it's subsequently picked up by Jane because Hela didn't know about the worthiness enchantment).
    • Barry and Wally are able to bring Pietro Maximoff back to life after finding him in the Speed Force
    • Jessica is shocked to see Matt Murdock/Daredevil alive after assuming he died following the Defenders' battle with the Hand.
    • The moment when everyone killed by the Gauntlet returns (as well as Constantine working with Nebula to perform a ritual that restores Gamora to her body), leaving the heroes to tear through Thanos's forces.
    • Shuri and Cyborg are able to use the Mother Box and the Mind Stone to repair and reactivate the Vision.
    • Back on Earth-38, Lucy Lane and Cat Grant have returned to the DEO and Cat Co respectively; after being 'dusted' by "The Snap", they each decided that National City was the best place for them to make the kind of difference they wanted to make.
    • In Different Strokes, Slade returns to help the team and the Huntress is now an operative for Argus.
    • Darcy Lewis becomes part of the Avengers' primary support staff in Taking Flight (and Fights).
    • In Powers and Marvels, Jason, Trini and Zack are brought back into the fold to help the Avengers and the active Rangers after the Power Coins are stolen.
  • Ancienverse:
    • Numerous past friends of Ash return in the Team Tournament, including Brock, Gary, May, Dawn, and Conway.
    • Squishy and Z-2 also make a return appearance in Alola.
    • Harry Kalas returns in Tenacity to commentate on the Hope Leilani and Alola League.
    • Several prominent Team Rocket agents reappear in Tomorrow, including Butch and Cassidy, Domino, Pierce, and Dr. Zager.
    • In the same story, the Team Rocket trio retrieves their Sinnoh Pokemon, left at HQ at the end of DP. Even their Unova Pokemon appear.
  • In Candy For Your Thoughts?, Noah is brought back for the Niagara falls challenge instead of Blaineley. After that, he's eliminated, along with Owen. However, he proved to be vital for the chapter, as he sang a musical number with Owen that eventually got Cody to confess his love for Courtney.
  • In Hellsister Trilogy, the Legion of Super-Heroes and Satan Girl's child are put on a bus after the first arc wraps up, are conspicuously absent during the second arc, and return at the beginning of the final storyline, thirty-five chapters later.
  • Weight of the World: After not being seen since The Depths of Deception, Roman returns in The Charlatan of Choice and takes the Relic of Creation from Nora and Romano to give it to Salem.
  • In Peanuts story Everybody's Gotta Leave Sometime, several characters who hadn't been seen in years or even decades return to say their goodbyes to Charlie Brown: Shermy (who made his last appearance in 1969), Patty (1997), Violet (1997) and Pig-Pen (1999).
  • Guiding Light is about Mirabel returning to the Encanto ten years after she was (allegedly) kidnapped and left to fend for herself out in yonder.

  • The Cat Who... Series: In book #13 (The Cat Who Moved a Mountain), Melinda Goodwinter returns to Pickax after having left town in book #7 (The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare) while Qwill is away, though she isn't seen onscreen until the next book.
  • In Caleb Williams, Collins disappears from the novel after telling Falkland’s backstory. Ten years (and many chapters) later, Collins bumps into Caleb on the road. It turns out Collins was sent to the West Indies to look after Falkland’s plantation.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid:
    • Nasty Pants appears in Wrecking Ball, for the first time since Cabin Fever. He's dancing at Greg's going-away party.
    • The members on Greg's basketball team in Big Shot include Marcus and Darren Woodley (the boys who Frank chaperones at the campout in The Last Straw), and Ruby Bird from The Third Wheel.
  • Discworld:
    • Twoflower is put on a bus at the end of The Light Fantastic. He returns (or, rather, Rincewind returns to him) in Interesting Times, about a decade later. He has not been seen since, except for a small mention in The Last Hero.
    • Then there's Eskarina Smith. Admittedly she belongs in the earlier stranger parts like Twoflower, but it took her 23 years to return, and about 34 books.
  • Dora Wilk Series: Witkacy is a side character in Soul Thief, appears briefly in Gods Must Be Crazy and then all is silent about him until he reappears as Dora's police partner in Exorcisms of Dora Wilk, three books later.
  • The Dresden Files:
  • The Fowl Twins brings back Minerva in the third book, after she was rather abruptly dropped after the fifth Artemis Fowl book. Apparently she and Artemis did date briefly between books, after which she had a Half-Human Hybrid with a fairy.
  • The AI Iona, one of Halo: Blood Line's stars, was seemingly forgotten after the comic ended with a Bolivian Army Ending. It took five years before she appeared in Halo media again, in Halo: Saint's Testimony, which centers around Iona attempting to convince the UNSC to not terminate her despite her impending rampancy.
  • Dame Estelle Matsuko was a main character and ally of Honor Harrington's in the first novel of the series, On Basilisk Station. She then virtually vanished from the narrative for a dozen books thereafter; despite being name-checked as the incoming Home Secretary for the Grantville government in War of Honor and having gained a peerage in the meanwhile (becoming Lady Dame Estelle Matsuko, Baroness Medusa), she didn't properly reappear on-page until The Shadow of Saganami. As the Imperial Governor of the Talbott Quadrant, she is a major player in the Saganami Island spinoff series (of which The Shadow of Saganami is the first novel).
  • Martin Beck: The killers from the first two books both reappear in Cop Killer, having gotten out of jail and kept out of trouble since.
  • Max & the Midknights: The Tower of Time: When Mary, Max, and Kevyn enter the tower of time, they find Ghastley there, who hadn't been seen since getting carried off by dragons in the first book.note  He claims he's there because he's turned over a new leaf, and wants to help them. He's lying, of course. He wants to kill Max when she was a baby so she doesn't kick him off the throne years later.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: Phil in The Grim Grotto. Tons of examples in The Penultimate Peril, including Mr. Poe, Jerome, Justice Strauss, the teachers from Prufrock Prep School, residents of the Village of Fowl Devotees, Hal (running an Indian restaurant), Carmelita Spats, Sir, Charles, and Bruce (a minor character from The Reptile Room).
  • Star Wars Legends: Halfway through Galaxy of Fear, the droid DV-9 declared that he was tired of dangerous adventures. On a character level he wasn't really needed anymore, either; mostly he had contrasted with The Stoic Hoole as an adult-figure who was less forbidding around Tash and Zak, and by that point the kids and Hoole had finally come to trust and like each other. DV-9 was freed and went to be a research assistant on Koaan. In the last book the others visit Koaan and he meets them and helps find something they were looking for, but declines to come with them off the planet.
    "I am not programmed for philosophy, but I've seen enough to know that you and Tash are in for more excitement than my circuitry can handle. I belong here."
  • Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note: Sunahara, who has been Commuting on a Bus after the fourth novelnote , officially returns to the recurring cast in the eighteenth novel, when he returns to Aya's class.
  • Tortall Universe: In the Protector of the Small quartet's third book, Squire, most of Kel's page friends are scattered all over Tortall with their own knight-masters and she doesn't see them at all. They come back in Lady Knight when they're all posted to the Scanran front.
  • Trixie and Gilda in Twilight Sparkle and the Crystal Heart Spell. Less so for Trixie, since she had recently appeared in Season 3, but this is Gilda's first reappearance in any sort of Friendship is Magic-related media since Griffon The Brush Off.
  • In Warrior Cats, Graystripe was captured by Twolegs early in the third book of the second series and ultimately presumed dead or permanently lost by his Clanmates. In the first book of the third series - taking place half a year after the second series ended - he returned, having escaped and found the Clans in their new home.

    Professional Wrestling 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering had a series of sets focused around the efforts of New Phyrexia to overtake Mirrodin. The set ended with the Mirran resistance's crushing defeat and the final compleation (not a misspelling) of the plane. Then the New Phyrexians went quiet for several real-world years... until the Kaldheim set, where Vorinclex, one of the Praetors of New Phyrexia, revealed his presence on the plane, crushed all who attempted to stop him, and successfully made off with a sample of tyrite, hinting at further manipulations from the New Phyrexians in the future - especially since this incident makes clear they can cross planes.
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Squats were featured very prominently in the first two editions of the game, but were subsequently dropped during the shift to third. Fast forward thirty years to 2018 and they return (albeit in a very limited form) to the Gaiden Game Necromunda. Then, in April 2022, they were brought back into the mainline game as the Leagues of Votann.

    Theme Parks 
  • The Haunted Mansion in Disneyland opening day had a denizen called the Hatbox Ghost. Through the use of lighting his face in a certain way, his head would disappear and reappear in the hatbox he carried. He was included front and center in much of the promotional material for the new attraction. However, while the effect worked from a specific angle, the illusion broke down when viewed from most of the angles of the ride. Just a few days after the ride was opened, the Hatbox Ghost was removed. His animatronic was subsequently lost by the staff. Yet, the Hatbox Ghost retained a following for decades afterward. In 2015, the Hatbox Ghost, using modern projection technology, finally returned to the mansion.

  • The Order of the Stick:
    • As of issue 789, the green-haired elf that's been hanging around the Palace of Blood is revealed to be Zz'dtri in disguise, more than 700 comics after being dragged away by copyright lawyers. "Parody is protected speech."
    • And #1105 sees the return of the final member of the original Linear Guild, Hilgya. That's more than 1,000 comics since we last saw her.
    • Strip 1226 sees the return of Serini Toormuck, whose last appearance was 1,030 strips ago.
  • Dominic Deegan: Snowsong, who was last seen in 2007, makes a re-appearance in July of 2012.
  • Homestuck:
    • God Tier Aradia was Put on a Bus by going off to delay Jack Noir, then turned up alive and well in a dream-bubble in Act 6, having appointed herself a caretaker of the dead.
    • For the longest of time, John was Put on a Bus when in comparison to other characters. Then in Act 6 he gains the ability to Cosmic Retcon anything, anywhere, at anytime. Suddenly, he becomes the main focus of the plot again.
  • Parisa: After Nolan and Gwen send the Hand Turkey all the way into outer space in Chapter 2, it returns in Chapter 5 by crashing into the wrestling stadium and demanding to be the next fighter.
  • Something*Positive begins each year with a week of "Old Familiar Faces," where we get a bunch of one-shot comics dealing with characters who haven't been seen in a long time. Often these include characters like Jhim or Branwen, who used to be major secondary characters, but also a grab-bag of One Shot Characters from years ago who never even got named.
  • The Girl Genius strip for June 12th 2020 features the return of Pix, and subsequently the rest of Master Payne's Circus, last seen back in 2007. In this case, it's not so much that the bus came back, as that Agatha finally made it to where the bus was going.
  • Phillip Kim in Weak Hero is a prominent antagonist throughout Season 1, only to be quickly and firmly beaten by the protagonist at the very start of Season 2. He then disappears almost completely from the story, only to suddenly pop up in Season 3, roughly 100 episodes later, as his business connections prove useful to the Big Bad when he needs to gather information on a rival gang.

    Web Original 
  • Burger Brawl: A twofer for episode 14 "I want the weed"
    • After abandoning the competitiom he's hosting and remaining cast in episode 9 for being canceled on Twitter, Burger King angrily comes back when he discovered someone else named Gery took his place and usurps his position once again. Most of the contestants weren't please with his return.
    • An even longer example with Tyce, a contestant who mysteriously disappeared in episode 3 and was replaced with a cardboard cutout, when Burger King decides the cutout joke isn't funny anymore and transformed him to his sentient, non-cardboard self.
    Tyce: "It took you that long to bring me back ?!
  • Crossed Lines: In Episode 1, Public Enemy, the Waterdown Railway's mixed-traffic diesel engine, Boomer, breaks down and is left in Benjamin's care while Atlas takes his train. He eventually returns in episode 7, Rebel Iron, attending the meeting Zebedee is holding in the Waterdown Railway shed.
  • Suburban Knights: Suede left the site two years prior to do missionary work. It turns out he was taking a temp position as an Obstacle for Jaffers. He lets Team A go after 'defeating' him and assists them in the final battle.
  • Fallout: Nuka Break: In episode 5, a character from the movie, Red, returns to the cast ensemble as a villianess.
  • We're Alive had Pegs, Kelly, Datu and Hope Put on a Bus at the end of chapter 29. In chapter 34 Datu and Hope return after Boulder falls to the zombies. Pegs and Kelly are missing and presumed dead, however.
  • Eddsworld had Tord returning to redo one of his lines in WTFuture. It was rumored he was scheduled to return in Fun Dead and an upcoming Wild West-themed episode should feature him as a main character.
  • Fans were disappointing when Taylor wasn't on season 5 of Wipeout Roblox, but were happy to see him return for season 6.
  • Red vs. Blue
    • A surprising one was Grif's sister Kaikaina, who was only seen in the final season of The Blood Gulch Chronicles saga and claimed to have Dropped A Bridge On Her, though Grif knew this was unlikely.
    • Another comes from Doc suddenly returning in season 13 after a teleportation accident vanished him halfway through season 11, with nobody seeming bothered by his disappearance. Doc is very angry to discover that the people he considered his friends never bothered to try and find him. In the process, the long-missing character of "O'Malley" also returned, after a much longer absence of about 8 seasons. (The Omega AI he was birthed from appeared, but O'Malley is somewhat distinct from Omega. It's weird. )
  • Noob had to get Dark Avenger Put on a Bus due to his actor having a drop in availability, but has been able have him back just long enough to be relevant to the plot on a couple of select occasions.
  • The Brooklyn Guy from SuperMarioLogan made his debut in a 2011 short, and was Put on a Bus the following video. He then returned three years later at the end of Part 5 of the "Bowser Junior's Summer School" story arc, and is now a recurring character with so far over 30 different jobs.
  • Midnight Screenings: Jerrid Foiles left the show after about a year due to a falling out between him and main host Brad Jones. Although they later reconciled and Jerrid started appearing in Brad's other videos again, it seemed that Jerrid was forever gone from Midnight Screenings. However, he made his triumphant return for the Warcraft review, and has become a semi-regular reviewer again ever since.
  • This happens on DEATH BATTLE! every time an old contestant (winner or loser) returns in another match-up.
  • Gaming All-Stars 2: Kratos, after initially appearing in Remastered to slay Giga Bowser and never receiving any more screen time after that, returns as one of the central protagonists of this series (Alongside Mario and Master Chief).
  • In Dream's Minecraft Manhunts: For a while, George was the one and only hunter. Dream did special one-off Manhunt episodes with Sapnap and Bad, but they hadn't appeared for a while. Eventually, however, Sapnap was brought back as a second hunter alongside George, and when they decided a third was needed Bad came back as well. Just like Dream and George, Sapnap and Bad are now mainstays in the Manhunt series.
  • Dreamscape: After having a (rather minor) role in episode 1, Soya and Vladmare finally return at the end of episode 7 to fight Ethan and Curien.
  • Protectors of the Plot Continuum: Sean, who used to be Agent Luxury's boyfriend, returns after an absence of nearly a decade to help a team of newbies tackle an NSFW crossover involving a Slimer replacement raping Sam from Transformers. His disappearance is handwaved by him explaining that he spent most of the decade lost in a plothole.


Video Example(s):


Slappy's Return

After spending the majority of the Animaniacs reboot absent, except for a couple of silent cameos, Slappy the Squirrel finally makes an actual appearance in the final episode of season three, and proves she hasn't lost her edge.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheBusCameBack

Media sources: