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The Chris Carter Effect

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"ABC announced this week that it has renewed Lost for a fourth season. Said the show's writers, 'Oh, crap.'"
Amy Poehler on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" segment

If the fans conclude that the writing team will never resolve its plots, then they will probably stop following the work.

It's said that no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the viewing public, but sometimes a show comes along that promises stories so complex and subtle that they'll make War and Peace look like Frog and Toad Are Friends. If it's done right, then this is catnip to a certain sector of the viewing public, who will often give such a show a surprisingly long time to set up its plot arcs before getting antsy for a resolution. The catch for the creator is that, the longer an arc runs and the more complicated it gets, the more awesome its payoff must be for it to feel satisfying to the fans. It's much easier for a writer to keep kicking the can — piling mysteries on top of mysteries — rather than finish storylines.

That said, most audiences are savvy enough to recognize a framing device when they see one. Plots resting on a single Driving Question (Where is the Sunflower Samurai? Who is Mrs. Mosby?) are allowed some leeway; otherwise, the production team would be out of work and the story would end. The Chris Carter Effect happens when a work is wholly focused on twists or not building up to a satisfactory resolution, or the plot gets so bloated that there no longer can be a satisfactory resolution. Another contributing effect could be the unsatisfactory resolution of long-running side-plots. At this point, even the most ardent fans will start to feel jerked around, or perhaps even channel flip to something else.

Sometimes, the lack of a resolution is not the writers' fault: the network might have pulled the plug early or compromised the original vision by having it focus on more merchandisable elements or to keep adding to or expanding on the author's intended story.

See also Kudzu Plot and Commitment Anxiety. Specifically, the combination of a Kudzu Plot with Webcomic Time can have a similar effect on the audience, even when a finale is in the works, if the piece stretches out long enough that the fans lose track of the original premise of the series. Arc Fatigue is this trope on a smaller scale, in which just a single story arc goes on for too long without any resolution rather than the entire series. Can be connected to Franchise Original Sin in that the Myth Arc is successful at first before devolving over time into less-successful territory.

It isn't solely overly-complicated plots that can do this, either. It can also be caused by a Cliffhanger followed up by one too many installments that neglect to resolve it, or a series running on Unresolved Sexual Tension that drags it on just a little too long.

If fans doubt that such a show will even survive to finish its story and don't bother tuning in, that's The Firefly Effect. Compare Writing by the Seat of Your Pants, which does not focus on how the audience reacts to it.

Named for Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files, whom some believe to be the godfather of this trope.

Contrast Fan-Disliked Explanation.

Examples subpages:

Other examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Pokémon: The Series tends to establish a goal for each main character to work towards, but these are frequently so vague that it's hard to tell if they're actually making progress at all. Ash Ketchum himself sets out to become a "Pokémon Master", but in 20+ years of episodes the audience still has gotten little clue of what that actually means. All that's said is that it's far beyond being the strongest trainer as when someone asked on Poké's mailbag, the writers said they would not answer the question as they'd prefer to leave it up to fans to come up with their own interpretations. Some characters, like May and Dawn competing in Pokémon Contests, have more defined goals and make clear progress, but end up leaving the cast to continue at it offscreen, leaving their arcs unresolved. None of the characters have truly achieved any of their goals as of yet. Thus, many fans have given up on ever seeing any of the characters' stories really wrapped up at any point in the foreseeable future... of course, seeing as the target demographic is eight to twelve years old, it also doesn't seem to matter all that much, as some fans give up on it (and are replaced by younger fans) before this trope becomes much of an issue.
    • Both the Contest Champion and the Pokémon League champion are characters only introduced for those events, leaving all the rivals hanging as well as the protagonists. Sinnoh and Kalos are the only major exceptions; the contest champion in Sinnoh is Zoey, who had been a significant rival and supporting cast member since the region began. Likewise, the Pokémon League Champion in Kalos is Alain, who was a major character in the Mega Evolution mini-series. Alola also became an exception when the Pokémon League champion was Ash himself. And then, in Journeys, Ash sucessfully beats Leon at the World Coronation Series and becomes the very best, like no one ever was. After that, there is the miniseries, Aim to be a Pokémon Master with the final episode being Ash and Pikachu's final episode as protagonists of the anime.
    • This has almost become an enforced trope in regards to Ash and his Pokémon. After Hoenn he almost never even mentions any Pokémon from prior regions besides Pikachu, meaning if any of those Pokémon or even most trainers from those regions had outstanding plots, they will never be resolved. However, Sinnoh has Ash using a number of his Kanto, Johto and Hoenn Pokémon in the Lily of the Valley Conference with Sceptile being the only Pokémon to beat Tobias's Darkrai, Unova has Ash's Pokémon up to that point posing with him in a picture and Journeys has a couple of episodes where Ash goes back to Professor Oak's Lab where he reunites with his Pokémon and Aim to be a Pokémon Master has Ash rotating his team, e.g. one episode where he, Misty and Brock have to help a Beartic with its cold controlling powers has Ash using Snorlax, Oshawott, Talonflame and Incineroar.
    • Any MacGuffin that Ash obtains that compels him to travel to a particular region, if it's not in a movie, will become a case of What Happened to the Mouse? as Ash and his companions get caught up in something else, and they'll eventually leave it with someone never to be seen again (such as the GS Ball) or it's completely wiped from existence or anyone's memory (Misty's bicycle). With the GS Ball, however, there was Word of God on it: The GS Ball originally was supposed to contain Celebi, but that plotline was reappropriated into one of the movies, so the producer decided to quietly remove the GS Ball from the story in hopes everyone would forget about it. And as for Misty's bike, right before Misty leaves the company of Ash and Brock in Johto, we finally get closure regarding it when the Nurse Joy from the Pokémon Center Ash went to in the second episode of the Kanto saga (where Misty cornered him and chewed him out for Pikachu frying her bike and it was actually pivotal to the episode as a Chekhov's Gun) reveals she restored it to mint condition in the time Misty has been gone (because Misty abandoned it there in the Pokémon Center knowing it was no use to her anymore).
  • Berserk ran into this when it came to Guts and his party's goal to reach Elfheim, where the possibility of Casca's insanity being cured lay. With Miura's scheduling slipping, it was inevitably going to take a long time, but fans worried that others would lose interest. It took almost eight years for Guts to finally get off the damn boat and reach Elfheim. But then the subplot sped up and Casca was successfully cured. Only for Miura to leave her further reaction as a Cliffhanger and focusing on Griffith again, with his usual hiatus going on. (And then he died in May 2021, leaving the series' fate up in the air.)
  • There is, of course, the long-running Case Closed, which hasn't progressed its "plot" by much in 16 real-life years...
    • ... until the Bourbon arc goes out of its slow start and then the series features at least a bit of plot advancement in every single case. It is still debatable whether the plot is really advancing or not, but the reveals of the true identities of the newcomers, the gambit to make the Black Organization believe Sherry is finally dead for real, and Bourbon getting directly interested in Conan for his crime-solving ability and connections to the FBI, can certainly be called plot advancements.
    • As of 2018 and the series returning from a long hiatus caused by Aoyama having health issues, it's rare for a story arc to not advance the plot. Maybe it's been realized that if the series ends because the mangaka died, it would be hard to keep selling the volumes?
  • Bleach: A big complaint within the fandom was that Tite Kubo seemed to have so many hanging plot threads that he didn't seem to be paying any attention to. The final arc began the process of tying up all dangling plot threads, character issues, and backstories, even covering events the fandom had been convinced Tite Kubo had forgotten all about and addressing issues that the fandom had completely missed the original significance of. Unfortunately, due to the declining health of the author and Shonen Jump insisting on a quick end, the manga was Cut Short and it is likely that the unanswered questions the author didn't get to will never be resolved. With the last arc finally being animated, it's hoped that Adaptation Expansion will occur and answer these questions.
  • The Lost Village lost fans due to the slow start and the fact that the mystery didn't really seem to go anywhere. Things get better after episode 7, but due to that slow start, some fans still think that the ending was rushed.
  • Episode 4 of Humanity Has Declined was theoretically a satire/parody of modern manga business practices, but mostly ended up addressing this. When the characters find themselves needing to make a popular manga, the local mangaka explains that the way to make a bestselling manga is not to craft a consistent plot but to keep stringing viewers along with constant cliffhangers, since they won't realize the plot holes until the end. However, once the audience catches on, the popularity of their manga drops like a stone.
    The greatest entertainer is the greatest swindler!
  • X/1999 remains on hold since 2003 with 18 volumes out of a planned 21 with a few chapters which is supposed to be for the 19th volume. Nanase Ohkawa, the lead writer of CLAMP, mentioned that they're still looking for a magazine willing to publish the remaining chapters. However, a decade had already passed and CLAMP put two more works (Gate 7 and Legal Drug) on hold to work on Tsubasa World Chronicle, xxxHolic: Rei and Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card. Fans of X/1999 are not pleased with this and doubt that the manga will ever continue at this point. It doesn't help that several plot points have been left hanging for a decade such as Kamui's "true" wish and most importantly, who wins between the Dragons of Heaven and the Dragons of Earth.
  • ×××HOLiC started off very well developing the cast until it got too closely intertwined with Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE- which complicate things such as Watanuki's and Yuko's backstories. And then, Yuko "dies" and Watanuki inherits the shop with a new purpose which is to wait for her. It doesn't help that the manga ended without a resolution. Later, CLAMP continued the manga with xxxHolic: Rei which brought the return of Yuko as the shop owner with the possibility that Watanuki's stuck in a dream. However, readers find that the new manga brought nothing new to the story or that CLAMP is dragging the direction too long.
  • Trinity Blood became this after Sunao Yoshida unexpectedly died in 2004. The novels were completed by his friend and like the anime, it only stops at Ester's coronation as Queen of Albion while Abel and Ion traveled around the world to stop Cain. The manga is said to end at that part as well. So even if one would continue the series with the notes left by Yoshida, the resolution between Abel and the humans vs. Cain and the Rosenkreuz Orden remained unsolved because the last notes stopped at the final battle between the two brothers without the result.
  • Hunter × Hunter suffers from extreme Schedule Slip, and hasn't come close to resolving many plots as a result, such as the Phantom Troupe and the Dark Continent arc. The series began to inch forward in stunted segments due to constant Series Hiatus, making little gains until 2016 finally saw the ball rolling with several bang-up chapters before another long drought. In 2017, despite another hiatus, the story finally gets down to business, because this is the first time in a long time that Yoshihiro Togashi has taken a hiatus and promised to come back at a set return date and has found a nervous rhythm that is giving the story momentum.
  • Diabolik Lovers went two seasons with no resolved sexual tension and no new progressions in the plot, unless one counts the plethora of new, entirely unforeshadowed characters that show up in the second finale and have absolutely no relation to the preexisting characters. Who will the new Adam be? You can be sure the viewers don't know.
  • Nana was going on at a steady pace, until Ai Yazawa's leave due to disease, which put the series in hiatus. That was in 2009. She recovered the following year, but seven years later, she's yet to pick up the story and resolve details such as, who is really the father of Hachi's daughter, whether she will stay with Takumi or break up with himnote , whether someone will find Nana O. in Europe or she will get in touch with her friends first, and so on.
  • Rent-A-Girlfriend is a prominent example of the Unresolved Sexual Tension variant. After about 300 chapters, the relationship between Kazuya and Chizuru hasn't progressed much since when the story started, and every major step they get in the relationship would be quickly met with Status Quo Is God, with a lot of the Character Development either of the two would get usually being gone once the following arc starts — Chapter 218 in particular being an infamous example of this. As such many fans have given up on the manga, feeling the UST is never going anywhere.

    Comic Books 
  • Spider-Man:
    • Many of the plot elements related to the Spider-Totem introduced by J. Michael Straczynski during his run on The Amazing Spider-Man (J. Michael Straczynski) from 2001 to 2007 gave readers a lot of doubletalk and mystical mumbo-jumbo, but very little in the way of concrete resolution, like exactly why Peter had to "evolve", why one cosmic entity wanted to bring him back from the dead while another thought he should stay deceased, the mysterious entities that resurrected Mysterio and Miss Arrow and what they wanted with Peter, etc. None of this was ever really explained. A degree of resolution was achieved in the Spider-Verse storyline, which explained the origins of the Inheritors and had Spider-Man and his allies defeat them.
    • Originally, The Clone Saga was supposed to wrap up after a few months, after an already complicated narrative. However, due to the efforts of Marvel executives, the story was extended for another year, with plot twists being reversed constantly, and supposedly dead characters appearing, reappearing and then dying anticlimactically. The story finally limped to its conclusion with another plot twist that had almost nothing to do with most of the events that preceded it (Norman Osborn was back). It should be noted that, when the saga started, it was Marvel's highest-selling group of books. The act of stretching it to the limit for so long caused sales to slump, and fans turned away in droves.
    • Most of the plots in the book during the Brand New Day storyline essentially went nowhere. Mysteries such as who was Jackpot, what Mr. Negative was going to do with Peter's blood, what happened to erase Peter's memories, why Harry was alive, and more were given an anti-climactic resolution, dragged out for several years, or worse, both. The explanation for Harry Osborn's return was that the goblin serum revived him, which made no sense since it was the thing that killed him in the first place (the run by Nick Spencer a decade later would eventually reveal he was just another clone and killed him off). Jackpot was a character that the readers never met before and was killed off during the same story. Mysteries such as the secret to how Peter's identity was made a secret again were resolved in a manner that most of the audience figured out already, leading many to question why it was kept a secret for three years. After a while, it became clear that the writers had no real major arc planned for the character and his mythos, and were just making it up as they went along.
  • Strangers in Paradise featured a series of flash-forwards that never actually resolved or were explained. Writer Terry Moore went so far as to include not one but TWO fake-out reboots (one in which the comic's story turned out to be a book a new character was writing and another in which it turned out to all be a dream) which were then immediately discarded the very next issue. Eventually the last third of the series sort-of righted itself and all of the immediate conflicts were tied up by the end, but much of the first half of the run remains unexplained.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics) had a problem with this during the Penders/Bollers era. Everyone and their mother had some super-extraordinary destiny that they must fulfill (Knuckles and the mysterious dream his dad Locke had, Tails and the Great Harmony, Sally and whatever the Source wanted with her, etc.), but everyone seemed to forget that this was Sonic's comic and whenever he showed up, he was incredibly inefficient at being a hero — half of the time, he was grounded for one reason or another. It got to the point where the two head writers were at each other's throats and were forced off the title; Ian Flynn took over writing duties and spent his first year mostly just wrapping up all the loose plot threads.
  • The entirety of Scott Lobdell's run on Teen Titans had this problem. He'd introduce plot threads, most of which would go nowhere. Those that actually went somewhere led into more questions, which led into more questions. The linchpin of his entire run was the villain Harvest, a guy from the future who knew how to plan ahead for everything, and was doing what was best for humanity and was this Dark Messiah figure and... turned out to be a generic villain whose plans made no sense. Skitter was called away in the middle of a crossover... and returns over a year later without that plot thread amounting to anything. Basically everything that wasn't a self-contained arc was being made up as it went along.
  • Brian K. Vaughan's creator-owned long runners Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina both suffered these, especially Y, which had a lot of the questions brought up during the run unanswered. Vaughan later admitted he believes that since this is how real life works (not all questions are answered) that he chooses to write this way. He also doesn't believe in happy endings.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Pirates of the Caribbean started as an inversion with the very first movie concluding the storyline and giving all the characters a happy ending which is understandable giving it was meant to be a stand-alone movie, but once the original movie became a huge Sleeper Hit and the start of a franchise, the writers decided to go against their original conclusion by pulling Happy Ending Override after Happy Ending Override over the three following sequels without really trying to bring the characters to a positive conclusion and commonly ending in a worse place they already were per movie. By the time of On Stranger Tides most of the sympathetic characters were dead, Put on a Bus to Hell, disappeared with an Uncertain Doom implication and the one character that seemed to be gaining a happy conclusion was Barbossa, the villain of the original movie while Jack Sparrow seemed to get further from his objective of winning back the Black Pearl as the movies keep going and the newly introduced characters got not much resolution in favour of pulling more Cliffhangers. This lead to a lot of fans to start to lose interest in the franchise feeling the writers were not intending to give the characters a happy ending as long as the movies keep being popular. Dead Men Tell No Tales tried to fix this by having Jack win back the Black Pearl and have Will and Elizabeth finally reunited only for The Stinger to have Davy Jones coming back from the dead which to many fans make a lot of the struggles of the last four movies completely pointless, meaning the franchise still hasn't left this trope yet.
  • The Saw franchise is a rare example of a film series running into this, which started once the original creators departed from writing with the production of Saw IV. As new reveals and twists were constantly thrown into the overarching story, the series became less about a Poetic Serial Killer who forces people into Death Traps in order to prove a moral point (which is more or less granted, since he previously died at the end of Saw III), and more about the increasingly convoluted machinations of the people fighting over said killer's Villainous Legacy. Eventually, many viewers outside the fanbase gave up on following the plot, and were just there for the over-the-top gore effects. Once diminishing box office results started setting in with Saw VI, the writers and Executive Meddling eventually began to make an effort in tying off the many loose threads with the original finale, Saw 3D, but the result proved fairly divisive among fans. It wasn't until Spiral, an installment that — while acknowledging the previous films — has a pretty standalone plot within the timeline, that the franchise finally left the effect to an extent.note 
  • Despite being only three films long, the Star Wars sequel trilogy suffered from this rather heavily. J. J. Abrams (who may well be this trope's modern patron saint) left a massive number of plot points and mysteries in the first film, but lacked any clear answer for most of them, expecting the next person to make the answers instead. Rian Johnson, seemingly out of irritation at this idea, cut this off at the knees by thoroughly resolving half of the ideas Abrams set up and ignoring the rest. After that point, it had become clear that Disney had no overarching idea, which caused many fans to simply give up on any coherent answer for most of these questions, not helped by The Rise of Skywalker still leaving many questions unresolved or opening far bigger questions in the process.

  • Robert Jordan's Doorstopper series The Wheel of Time spent 11 books (each greater than 500 pages) spinning out a Kudzu Plot, and Jordan himself seemed adamantly opposed to resolving any plot threads before the 12th and final book. Despite this, he stated that he would conclude the series with book 12 "whether it's 15,000 pages, Tor has to invent a new binding system, or it comes with its own library cart," since it was very unlikely that he could write a coherent thirteenth book. This turned out to be true, but for other reasons than he expected: he Died During Production. Brandon Sanderson, the writer tapped to finish the series in Jordan's stead, eventually decided that resolving every arc properly would take no less than three books. It did. Three, huge, massive books.note  As the series took 25 years to finish, many fans dropped off after reading the most recent book and waiting years for the next to come out. Due to said Kudzu Plot, new books would be unintelligible after years away without rereading most of the series, and so this effect took hold.
  • Daniel "Lemony Snicket" Handler deliberately exploited this. The theme at the end of A Series of Unfortunate Events is that not every mystery could easily be solved, not every question could easily be answered, and there are many mysteries in the world that simply will never get solved. Handler claims this was his intent from book one. Thus the final book "The End" is anything but, though it does answer the series' most important question: that Beatrice was the Baudelaires' mother.
  • Remnants by K. A. Applegate. It spends the first ten or so books setting up a bunch of mysteries (why do some of the humans have superpowers now? What is the Ancient Enemy, and how is it connected to Billy and/or the Troika? What happened to the missing five humans?), but promptly switches to basically a new plot for the last few books, with none of the questions answered. Granted, the plotline at the end was pretty good and somewhat more coherent until the Gainax Ending... but it's like the first ten books were wasted with a destination of nowhere.
  • Everworld, by the same author as Remnants, is just as bad. Each successive book begins an entirely new plot and never goes back to answer any of the questions raised along with the plot. The series doesn't even have a concluding novel; the twelfth ends with the two primary antagonists (Ka Anor and the the Sennites) still alive and well after Senna herself gets killed off suddenly and does nothing to explain the myriad questions raised over the course of the series, such as the identity of the watcher in the void.
  • Animorphs does it too. While the main plot is technically resolved, it's still got an Audience-Alienating Ending. Plus, the Ellimist/Crayak stuff is still on-going, some of the info in Megamorphs is never brought up again, some of the pre-finale stuff comes out of the blue. Oh, and the ending introduces a new arc. Plus, there's that group of 'friendly' Yeerks, Ax's desire to avenge his brother...
  • George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire expanding to at least seven books and suffering from Schedule Slip has convinced some fans that Martin has no idea where he's going with the series.
    • Part of this comes from the fourth and fifth being Contested Sequels for their expanded scope, slower pace, and greater emphasis on character development and world-building than action and plot, though this is somewhat intentional both as a Breather Episode and because they were designed to fill in an abandoned five-year Time Skip. The other main reason is that the whole series is a vicious Deconstructor Fleet, which makes for a very exciting read but also means that no fan has ever had more than a vague idea of what the final book will be like or what the overall Myth Arc even is, making it easier to for fans to get accusatory because they're bloody sick of waiting.
    • Martin himself is aware of this concern and has consistently made clear that he does know the Broad Strokes of the story's events and ending, it's just getting there in a coherent and compelling fashion that's proving more complicated than he ever imagined and he has no plans to continue expanding, even half-jokingly declaring he needs to start killing off more characters to simplify things in The Winds of Winter.
  • Maximum Ride suffers heavily from this, though it doesn't really become apparent until Saving The World and Other Extreme Sports. As what was intended as the final book of a trilogy, you'd expect it to finally start resolving plot arcs, but instead it just keeps throwing in wackier and wackier twists while deliberately avoiding answering any questions.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Most commonly occurs when the writers are writing by the seat of their pants, known in wrestling jargon as "hotshot" booking. This is when a show is literally written as it is being performed, either because the writers aren't prepared, a wrestler is suddenly unable to work a match during a live show requiring an abrupt change in his angle, or because the bookers are trying to be daring and edgy. Hotshot booking rarely produces anything but failure, however.
    • The Kevin Nash-booked Summer of Suck in 1999 WCW featured the "Who drove the Hummer?" angle which was never resolved. Crossed with They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot, since, once Sid Vicious returned at WCW The Great American Bash 99, all they needed to say was that Randy Savage had hired Sid to drive the Hummer to crash into Nash's limo to injure him to make it easier for Savage to defeat Nash for the WCW World Heavyweight Title.
    • At WWE, an attempt to avert the concept in some circumstances was put in writing as part of the company's "Wellness Program", which states that any "Superstar" fired for doping offenses must job his or her title/finish an angle in the ring immediately and without pay.
    • Injured wrestlers can usually finish the match they're in (unless the injury is really bad), but they won't be back next week, and if they were in the middle of a storyline you've got a week (if you're lucky) to rewrite it.
      • In WWE in 2009, Edge and Chris Jericho had formed a tag team, won the Unified Tag Team Championships, and were just starting off an arrogant heel run with the belts...and then Edge tore his Achilles tendon, putting him on the shelf for the rest of the year. WWE Creative, backed into a pretty unpleasant corner, had Jericho cut a promo on Edge for having the gall to get injured during their title run; he then hyped up his new mystery partner (who was much better than Edge)...who he'd be debuting at the next PPV. This bought them enough time to actually get a new story together.
      • In the end, it actually worked out great, as Jericho's partner was The Big Show, and the team (known as "JeriShow") went on to dominate the tag team division for a good part of the year.

    Video Games 
  • Many have accused Tetsuya Nomura of doing this with the Kingdom Hearts series. Each new game ties up the previous one's loose ends but opens up twice as many new ones... The reason for this is because the first game in the series was deliberately designed with plot holes to fill because Nomura was unsure if a sequel would be worth making, and also because he wanted fans to make up their own theories about how things happened (which he succeeded at). Nomura then confirmed that he always will add plot holes, twist endings and other bizarre, mysterious elements into a game, and then make up answers to them while working on the next game. Rinse and repeat. The longer this cycle has gone on, the more vocally tired much of the fanbase has become of it, especially after the long-awaited Kingdom Hearts III, much hyped as the Grand Finale of the "Seeker of Darkness Chronicle", still felt inconclusive to some in regards to many plot threads already hanging all while opening up brand new ones.
  • The Legacy of Kain series seems to be suffering from a fatal case of Chris Carter. Eidos never really knew what to do with it after Crystal Dynamics stole it from Silicon Knights (and told SK to throw their carefully-plotted story ideas for a sequel in the trash). Crystal Dynamics' next decision with the franchise, having multiple titles in development at the same time with different teams working on them, did little to gel any sort of solid story. The meat of the stories after the first game seemed to follow immortal, nigh-indestructible evolving vampires traveling through time and fighting extra-dimensional demons. The series' timeline spans thousands of years, and each additional game either flagrantly retcons and/or reset buttons the previous installations, including at least one cliffhanger ending that not only drew cries of the game being released incomplete but wasn't actually resolved in the next game. It still could turn out to be one of the greatest series ever, provided they manage to put a bow on it. However, so far news from the developer seems to suggest that another sequel is unlikely.
    • One example: all the events of Blood Omen 2 (released 4th) happen between the events of Blood Omen and Soul Reaver (released 1st and second) in a timeline created in Defiance (released 5th) and destroyed in Soul Reaver 2 (released 3rd).
  • The Halo series is working on averting this after having fallen into this trope for a time. In its first decade, many elements of the universe were introduced and then never brought up again, such as what the MacGuffin Forerunner Crystal from Halo: First Strike was supposed to be, how many Spartans had survived to the present, what happened to the Spirit of Fire after Halo Wars, etc. After the series was turned over from Bungie to 343 Industries, the new studio began a massive effort to finally give answers to all the loose threads, sometimes by the dozens within the same work.
  • Any new partner characters, second-string villains, or "B" plots in the Resident Evil series are typically met with derision because, so far, only one out of nearly a dozen of these characters has ever reappeared in any other games. As a rule, many fans tend not to get too invested in these characters when they know they'll just end up Put on a Bus anyway.
  • Assassin's Creed was accused of this, as early as the Ezio trilogy. Cracked even made fun of the series for falling into this trope, alleging that its status as Ubisoft's Cash-Cow Franchise ensures that there will never be a proper end to the story.
    • Many fans were expecting Desmond to get his own game set in the modern era, as the first few games clearly point towards the character being trained in the Assassin arts and getting better at fighting Abstergo agents. This took a hard right turn in the fifth main game, Assassin's Creed III, in which Desmond haphazardly sacrifices himself in a last-minute twist to save the world. As of 2016, there have been four main games since then (not to mention numerous tie-in games), and this aspect of the plot hasn't been addressed at all, instead being focused on periphery characters who are sneaking around ostensibly finding out little tidbits of information about Abstergo. It got to the point that Assassin's Creed: Unity had no scenes at all in the present day, instead being a simulation run entirely through a console by two Assassins who act as Mission Control. This may have been the reason why Ubisoft opted to slow down the production schedule of the series in 2016 and take a longer time to complete each installment.
    • ... and then there's Juno, the mysterious entity who Desmond sacrificed himself for in III. At the end of the game, she promised to help save the world, but as of Assassin's Creed Syndicate, all she's done is float around computer systems and give cryptic information to various parties. It doesn't help matters that the Kudzu Plot is so complicated and stretched out across so many games that it requires reading a wiki page to understand it, and the goal of the entity can be boiled down to stealing a human body so she can inhabit it.
    • The resolution of Lucy's character. In the first few games, Lucy was the Mission Control/sidekick who initially busted Desmond out of Abstergo and helped him fight against them. The first three games had a relatively consistent character arc for her, but when voice actress Kristen Bell left the franchise during production of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, the writers had Desmond randomly stab her at the urging of Juno. The writers then promised that there would be answers to this plot twist, but it wasn't fully answered until the "Lost Archive" DLC for Assassin's Creed: Revelations two years later — it turns out she was a triple agent, who decided to break Desmond out despite actively working for the Templars and doing villainous things. In order to learn this, you had to get and play through the DLC (which used a platforming system different than the main series). If you didn't bother with the DLC, then you wouldn't learn why until ACIII and even then you'd just have people referring to her as a traitor.
  • Five Nights at Freddy's:
    • Owing to the Jigsaw Puzzle Kudzu Plot spread out across the series, many plot threads are often Left Hanging with no explanation or are difficult to work out and piece together, all while new threads are brought up with each game. Thus some question just how much is planned out, and how much is Scott Cawthon retconning things and/or making it up as he goes along.
    • While the first three games formed a mostly coherent story, the fourth (and at-the-time final) game confused many fans since despite seemingly depicting the once-mentioned Bite of 87, there's strong evidence suggesting it takes place years before then (not least being that the culprit was a character whose restaurant had been closed for years by 1987). There's also the fact that a box which, quoth Scott, contained "all the pieces put together," ended up being left unopened as opposed to being unlocked with a later update as initially planned.
    • Sister Location only confused things more by raising more questions and answering none, what with it taking some elements from The Silver Eyes (which is separate from the story of the games), putting into question just what really happened during 4, and the Custom Night's plot twists, amongst which is the implication that Springtrap is retconned from being the Greater-Scope Villain, to his son instead, significantly affecting Five Nights at Freddy's 3's story.
      • Though some Word of God would later clarify the spoiler above. Specifically, that Springtrap is the Greater-Scope Villain, and not his son, as previously believed.
    • Finally resolved with the sixth game, which actually answered most of the above questions and resolves the plot by having all the souls trapped inside the animatronics be released, and their souls pass onto the next world.
    • This aforementioned resolution was then retconned (again) by the ninth game, which revealed that all of the souls we thought were released are still very much trapped, only this time in even more perpetual agony, as their respective animatronics melted together into one being and was then sealed underground.
  • Hello Neighbor got hit with this even worse than FNAF did. As the game went through alphas, it became clearer that the developers were making it up as they went and were relying on the alleged "mystery" to get exposure (to point that many of the developers' Twitter posts consisted of begging for people to make theory videos) which wasn't helped by the game itself becoming increasingly overcomplicated and unpolished. The game's hype sunk like a stone upon the final release, where the longtime "mystery" of the neighbor's basement was answered in the first act, making the rest of the story vague and confusing, with the last chapter ending on a pathetic All Just a Dream twist. The sequel would later fall into the exact same trap.
  • Bendy and the Ink Machine's final chapter release earned some backlash for having a confusing Gainax Ending involving an apparent "Groundhog Day" Loop with very few questions being answered. Luckily, the sequel managed to recover with a far more cohesive story.
  • Overwatch has a fairly interesting plot about the titular organization Putting the Band Back Together while the nefarious Talon gathers its forces and stokes tensions while the world limps toward a second Robot War. As an exclusively multiplayer title, this story is told through external sources released sporadically online. Very sporadically. The kind of sporadic that means the rate of actual progress is better measured by years rather than by weeks or months. Nowhere is this more evident than with the issue of seeing Overwatch itself reformed, the core premise upon which the lore has built itself. A story cinematic released in March of 2016 established that a "recall" order had been issued to all former operatives to call them back into service and rebuild the organization. The issue of the recall then sat dormant and unmentioned for seventeen months until another story cinematic released in August of 2017 confirmed one new agent to respond. And during the interim, developments consisted mostly of the villains effortlessly pursuing their agenda and undoing the heroes' few victories while the latter either failed to stop them or accomplished little of consequence at all. So, not only does the lore progress at a glacial rate but the progress it does make is often trivial or demoralizing. Even fans who were enthusiastic about following the story from day one have grown increasingly fatigued and skeptical of Blizzard's ability or intent to follow through with their promises, especially since the tone of the lore has gradually become more melancholy with very little worth cheering for.
    • To top it off, the often long periods between new releases compound the issue with a meta effect: when new information comes out, it will often clash with long-standing and cherished fan theories that have developed in the meantimeJust an example , inevitably resulting in a backlash that drives some fans to either stop theorycrafting or stick to their guns and ignore what contradicts them. Either way, morale in the lore-minded sections of the community is often volatile.
    • It wasn't until 2020, four years after launch, that a sequel that would have more focus on the plot was announced (later pushed to 2021, then 2022, then early 2023). By that time, however, interest in the lore and story had severely died down, and the fanbase was less enthusiastic. Then it was announced in mid-2023 that most of the planned story-focused sections were being scrapped, furthering this reaction even further.
  • Shenmue has a single driving plot: it's about Ryo Hazuki, teenage martial artist, trying to get revenge for the death of his father on the evil crimelord Lan Di. Shenmue II ended on a cliffhanger and was looking like a near-certain Franchise Killer, but over a decade later, the franchise ended up being Saved by the Fans due to a heavy crowdfunding campaign that finally saw the creation of Shenmue III. In III, Ryo finally gets to face off against Lan Di... and it's a Hopeless Boss Fight where Ryo, in-story and out, fails to land a single hit, effectively being no closer to his goal than he was at the start. Though franchise creator Yu Suzuki had always claimed that he saw Shenmue as an epic storyline that would take many games to complete (with the first two games basically representing the first third of that story), III made it clear that he was keeping to those plans rather than trying to Wrap It Up. Given just how miraculous it was that III came out to begin with, this caused a lot of the fanbase to see Suzuki as prioritizing the idea of a big epic story over actually finishing it within his lifetime, having essentially wasted an opportunity he might never get again (especially as III was the first game in the series to be outright poorly-received).

    Web Animation 

  • After some 1,200 comics, the 8-Bit Theater foursome could probably have figured out a clever way to defeat Chaos and win the day as they did with all their other extremely powerful foes, but the story instead had them depowered and sent off somewhere to muck about, formulating some kind of plan to go back up against the Big Bad.
  • There was some fear that this would happen to the venerable Goats as the Infinite Typewriters Mega-Arc continued to add weirdness. John Rosenburg has assured us that it's all mapped out to 2012... despite the announcement of the strip ending afterwards. Granted it was pointed out that, if Goats was a person it would be time for its Bar Mitzvah.
  • For El Goonish Shive, Schedule Slip trouble + Dan Shive's love for Chekhov's Gun + his own tendency to occasionally forget stuff he did/didn't do = we should probably give up on getting answers to all of the questions. He has been trying to get things sorted out by establishing things alluded to and having situations progress, as well as having several Fourth-Wall Mail Slot bits between stories and a renewed effort to keep the strip updating 6 times a week (his 2012 average is probably 3.5 a week, which is pretty good, all things considered), so we'll have to see how he does.
    • Particularly bad with some plot lines. For example, the last time Grace's brothers were seen was over 10 years ago.
  • Wapsi Square has been headed quickly in this direction since Cerebus Syndrome kicked in, and especially since the Calendar arc was (semi-)resolved. Creator Paul Taylor claims that it's all part of an extended story that he plotted at the comic's start, but many think he's simply making it up as he goes. The fact that all of the subplots and storylines involving the various personal relationships were unceremoniously dropped shortly after the start of the Golem Girls arc, with no attempt at a resolution, would seem to support this opinion. A few believe that the increasingly bizarre supernatural recent events may indicate something of a Creator Breakdown.
  • Homestuck, ever since about the end of Act 2, very early on in the comic's story, and continuing all the way to the very end. Around the time of Act 5, a common fandom joke was that the story will focus long enough to resolve one plot thread... and then make you realize that it introduced three others to do it. When the series did end, people were proven right, as many many plot threads were left completely unanswered and/or forgotten.
  • Megatokyo suffers from this, and the schedule slips don't help matters any.
  • Polymer City Chronicles started as a silly gaming comic, eventually slipped to longer storylines involving space aliens Green-Skinned Space Babe's, The Greys, Body Snatchers, crystal life forms, Intelligent Gerbil refugees of interstellar war and so on), Pirates Who Don't Do Anything, and other things reminiscent of Fred Perry's Gold Digger. The author kept switching to new stories leaving previous plots hanging. He stopped updating the comic when finishing only the ongoing plots would've taken him 70 years (taking his usual Schedule Slip into the account).

    Web Original 
  • The Whateley Universe was supposed to run more-or-less in real time, and staying ahead of the actual date... but the series started in 2004 and has barely gotten into Winter Term of the first year of school, with some stories still stuck back in the Fall. Some fans are wondering if the authors will live long enough to finish the main story arc. It's been joked that the stories will wrap up any century now. And it has now hemorrhaged just about all of the original authors, except for Bek. With Diane Castle, the main person who moved things forward for three years, gone, it teetered on the edge of becoming Dead Fic, until several new writers infused it with fresh blood (and a few earlier writers started talk of returning).

    Web Videos 
  • KateModern is much more successful in this regard, but still left a few threads hanging at the end.
  • Many of the plot elements from Season 1 of lonelygirl15 seem to have been completely forgotten. Cassie, anyone?
  • Marble Hornets is a found-footage format series whose driving force was the events behind the titular student film. However, even after the initial fourteen entries that establish the initial mystery, things don't let up from there and Jay's own investigations end up adding mystery after mystery. Parts of the larger Myth Arc included the Masked Men, Jay's enigmatic stalker totheark, the whereabouts of the mysterious girl Jessica whom Jay meets in season two, and of course the Operator itself. By the end of the series, many of these are left unexplained or open to interpretation. Much like Lost, how effective this was depends on whether you prefer the show being left open to interpretation or having these answers explained. In an interesting case for this trope, the creators of the series were honest with themselves in that they had no initial idea for a long-term plan for the series, and most of the mysteries created in season one were done so more out of Rule of Scary rather than any necessity to the plot or Myth Arc (considering the show was made on a whim and they planned on wrapping it up at the end of the first season, it makes sense). However, once production on season two started, they decided they would up the ante and actually make sense of those non-nonsensical ideas they initially made.

    Western Animation 
  • Archer: Season 7 ends with Archer being mortally wounded and left comatose. The following three seasons are elaborate dream sequences within the coma where Archer imagines himself and the other main characters in different settings. Series creator Adam Reed has even gone on record saying he's not sure he wants Archer to ever wake up. This has caused quite a bit of frustration among fans, many of whom see the dream sequences as pointless filler, or feel that Reed is no longer invested in the actual story and world of Archer and is merely using the show to push other ideas with the established characters.
    • As of the finale of season 10 Archer woke up, ending the three season-long line of dream sequences.
    • Notably, season 11 — the first season since 7 to fully take place in the real world — received praise from both fans and critics as a return to form and resulted in a 32% increase in viewership compared to season 10. Which also saved the show from cancellation, as season 11 was originally planned to be the last.
  • Miraculous Ladybug got hit hard by this, given the huge amount of Will They or Won't They? focus the show had, with Adrien and Marinette's romance barely progressing even after 5 seasons of tension.

Alternative Title(s): Chris Carter Effect, Resolve Your Plots Dammit, Winging The Story, Lost In The Story Arc


Weird Method of World-Building

How well does it match the trope?

3.47 (17 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheChrisCarterEffect

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