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Trapped by Mountain Lions

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A subplot (usually in a drama) that is so disjointed from the main plot that you can't figure out why anyone would care about it, when the fate of the world is being decided elsewhere.

There are several reasons why this might happen. Maybe the author has introduced Loads and Loads of Characters and doesn't want people asking What Happened to the Mouse?. Maybe he doesn't want a new character to come out of nowhere. Maybe a comic relief character keeps getting scenes during a dramatic or serious portion of the plot, causing Mood Whiplash. Maybe the principal character is just a Creator's Pet, and you can't get anyone to care about it, meaningful or not. Maybe a certain character would be able to solve the primary problem quickly and easily, and therefore must be sidetracked. Or maybe the writers just needed to fill up time somehow.


This trope is named for Kim Bauer and her escapades in season 2 of 24. Whereas Kim was integral to the storyline of the first season, by season 2 the show had Elisha Cuthbert under contract but no way to work her character into the main plot. This resulted in a series of B-stories where Kim is chased by her employer's homicidal husband, briefly detained after said employer's corpse is found in the trunk of her stolen car, causes an auto crash that severs her boyfriend's legs, gets lost in the wilderness, is caught in a bear trap and menaced by a mountain lion (thus the trope name), held prisoner by a lonely mountain man who tricks her into thinking the world has ended, becomes a hostage in a liquor store holdup, and is menaced by the husband again when she goes to his house to get her stuff and he somehow manages to kill the trained law enforcement professionals escorting her. Meanwhile in the actual, interesting main plot, her father tries to locate and defuse a nuclear bomb that's fallen into the hands of terrorists while a conspiracy within the government abuses the situation to make a power-grab. Remember the main conceit of the series is that each season takes place within a twenty-four-hour period... it was a busy day.


Of course, this trope can be justified, and in many instances is wrongly invoked when what the writers are doing is too subtle for the audience. For instance, the side plot can be a step towards resolution of an inner problem of a character, without which they would be unable to solve an outer problem later. And, of course, it can be straight up Character Development.

Compare Wacky Wayside Tribe, where the entire cast is involved and there is no A-story. See also Deus Exit Machina, Filler, Padding, Big-Lipped Alligator Moment, and "Shaggy Dog" Story. Romantic Plot Tumor is a subtrope of this, as is Wangst. If the side story does end up having consequences that are just as or more important than the main one, but few characters are aware of or treat it as having that gravitas, then it falls under The Greatest Story Never Told. Also see Red Skies Crossover, where the story is only vaguely connected to a larger event by a character or some background element briefly mentioning it.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Most scenes with Bulma during the Frieza Arc of Dragon Ball Z; she needed to be there because nobody else could fly the spaceship, but after that her importance was non-existent. As a result, there are several episodes that cut away from the main plot to show Bulma reading magazines, hiding from Frieza's soldiers, fighting giant crabs in the ocean, etc. Amusingly enough, there's one segment in the show where Krillin and Gohan hear her screaming in the distance and wonder if she really was literally trapped by mountain lions (to which Krillin responds "I'd feel sorry for the lion.") Interestingly, while Dragon Ball Z Kai excises most of the filler from DBZ, it leaves in the sub-plot where Captain Ginyu briefly body-swaps with Bulmanote ; it's also referenced in Dragon Ball Super when Ginyu appears and both Bulma and Piccolo mention the body-swap.
    • Dragon Ball Z: The Tree of Might spends about half its runtime cutting away from or ignoring the kinda-neat plot of Earth being invaded by Space Pirates so we can get scenes of Gohan playing with his new pet dragon.
  • For most of Mobile Suit Gundam 00's first season, civilian teens Saji Crossroad and Louise Halevy seemed to serve no purpose at all. Until a Wham Episode comes as it makes them innocent victims of war, with Saji losing his sister Kinue and with Louise being orphaned and mutilated. In the second season, then, Saji becomes the main character Setsuna's partner and co-pilot of sorts, and Louise is an artificially enhanced enemy soldier.
    • The second season had shades of this trope as well, with side characters such as Graham Aker (under the guise of one "Mr. Bushido"), Marina Ismail, Wang Liu Mei, Nena Trinity and Ali al-Saachez carrying on with their own stories without much relevance to the larger outcome of the story.
  • Code Geass
    • The Mao subplot doesn't really affect much in the narrative. The only things of note that occurred due to the subplot was the Geassing of Shirley to forget Lelouch, the knowledge that Geass can go out of control, and The Reveal that Suzaku killed his father. However, none of these really affect the narrative in particular in the long run. Shirley's being Geassed is rendered moot after the Time Skip, where she's already fallen in love with Lelouch again, Lelouch learning Geass can go berserk doesn't come up when his starts acting oddly, leading to the "Euphinator" incident, and Suzaku's being geassed on Shinkine island to live was less about him killing his dad and more about his Death Seeker nature in general. Remove the Mao subplot from the narrative, and nothing is really lost. Even the creators seemed to agree, as when the Compilation Movie was first released, Mao was Adapted Out, and the only thing that changed was what happened to Shirley, something already rendered moot after she was Spared by the Adaptation.
    • At one point, Ohgi, Viletta, and Sayoko are at the top of a waterfall. Sayoko tries to kill Viletta, and Ohgi jumps in the way, the two falling off the waterfall toward some sharp rocks. This scuffle was never mentioned again, and didn't have anything to do with what was going on.
  • Danganronpa 3: Future Arc has several scenes where Yasuhiro Hagakure tries, and fails, to reenter the Future Foundation building after he is trapped outside. These scenes never amount to anything plotwise, but in a case of Tropes Are Not Bad, they provide some badly-needed comic relief in an otherwise dark plot.
  • Many plotlines in Yu-Gi-Oh! series that don't involve a Duelist tend to get this response. The original anime also had a number arising due to added Filler.
    • Various episodes in the later Duelist Kingdom arc focus on things like Honda, Anzu, and Bakura investigating Pegasus or Honda attempting to rescue Mokuba, which were added for the anime. They have no effect on the ongoing plot to the point that the former ends with everyone getting Laser-Guided Amnesia, often create some weird lore issues, and could be cut without affecting much of anything. They seem to exist just to remind you those characters exist.
    • The Otogi/Honda/Shizuka love triangle has a lot of time dedicated to it in both the blimp arc and the Virtual World arc (both added for the anime); it was never given any resolution, and it mostly just consisted of the two of them somewhat creepily mooning after her and fighting each other, made even worse by the fact that Honda and Otogi are high school students (making them roughly 15 and up), and Shizuka is around 12.
    • Seto Kaiba's involvement in the Millennium World arc: being the Breakout Character, the anime decided to write him into an arc where he appears as himself for two panels. Consequently, he spends a lot of time wandering around Egypt and watching events unfold while musing about how strange they are, rarely actually doing anything barring the final battle (where he still doesn't accomplish much).

  • Y'know what was going on at the same time as Crisis Crossover Civil War? Annihilation, aka the event where Annihilus killed Quasar and all of the Nova Corps (except Nova himself), stole the Quantum Bands thus making himself invincible, and then lead a Negative Zone army on a warpath, trying to slaughter all life in the galaxy. This was a threat so big that almost every space superhero, villain, and alien race up to and including Galactus teamed up to stop it. Compared to that, the events in Civil War seem incredibly pointless. Not to mention the Hulk was on his way back to rain holy hell on the superheroes. Lampshaded by a What If? Issue where Nova calls out Iron Man and Captain America on wasting everyone's time like this when a galaxy-destroying army of bugs is on the way.
  • In Crisis on Infinite Earths, the reader is enticed to forget about the fate of the multiverse and enjoy the adventures of Wildcat.
  • The first arc of season three of The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye insists on repeatedly cutting away from majorly important events to introduce and develop two totally new crew members, Anode and Lug, who end up contributing little to nothing to the story. Especially bad because this was the final season, meaning wrapping up any existing plots should’ve been top priority. James Roberts has indicated this was largely the result of having to change his plans for season three; Anode and Lug were supposed to be the protagonists of a third plotline involving the Mutineers, but a sudden relaunch of the comic led to them being moved into the main storyline instead, providing an Audience Surrogate for new readers at the cost of robbing them of much of their plot relevance.

    Fan Works 
  • Two of the early subplots in Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race dealt with a cop named Lyn dealing with her missing, drug-addicted brother and the plans of the Vic Tech coporation to get in on the robot warrior gig. Not bad subplots, but they lack a direct connection to the main plot aside from a brief attempt by Dr. Wily to get hired by Vic Tech in the revised Episode 1 and are overall not what you'd expect from a story whose primary attraction is "blue robot fights mad scientist". However, Lyn eventually becomes one of Mega Man's allies and her brother plays a key role in Episode 6 while the increasing desperation of Vic Tech results in setting the stage for Episode 7 and beyond, subverting this trope. Later subplots like the Bonnes and Mr. Black are also better about having more of a direct and sensible tie-in to the main story, avoiding this trope.
  • My Brave Pony: Starfleet Magic takes this to slightly absurd levels with each entry in the series having two separate villains in unrelated story arcs; one takes the spotlight as a main villain, while the other serves as a secondary villain that's defeated around two-thirds of the way into the story. In the first three "seasons", the secondary villain is at least tangentially related to the Big Bad (Serpentari is out for revenge on Titan, the Changeling Captain is The Starscream for Chrysalis and actually contributes to the main storyline, and Raven teams up with one of Sombra's henchman who's gone rogue and holds one of the Macguffins) even if their plots are largely separate. In everything after that, the secondary baddies are just there for the sake of being there and have no relation to the main plot whatsoever, to the point where they could be written into two separate stories and nothing would change.
    • In Season IX of the series has an Arranged Marriage plotline involving Applejack and a childhood friend of hers Applespice. A good chunk of the plot is devoted to the subplot but despite the A plot involving bad guys who are waging a war against love itself it never becomes integral to the main storyline and after spending the whole season focusing on it the whole thing gets resolved in a massive anticlimax when Apple Bloom realizes there's nothing stopping Applejack and Apple Spice from getting a divorce.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Everything dealing with former reporter Steve Martin (played by Raymond Burr) and the American army in The Return of Godzilla. These scenes were filmed and written specifically for the American cut of the film, mimicking the original importation of Godzilla: King of the Monsters!, where Burr's character was much better integrated into the plot, mostly by essentially taking the narrative place of Hagiwara, a major character in the Japanese cut. But in Return, none of the American characters actually do anything, so we're left watching other people effectively watching the movie with us from within the movie.
  • The lengthy "Broadway Melody" sequence in Singin' in the Rain seems to divide fans on the question of whether it is entertaining enough to justify leaving the plot on hold for over ten minutes.
  • Ditto the long ballet segment in the middle of (the uncut version of) Ken Russell's film adaptation of The Boy Friend.
  • The second half of A Day at the Races has an extended musical interlude which starts with Allan Jones singing "Tomorrow Is Another Day," which is followed by Harpo using his flute to summon a black chorus which sings "Blow That Horn, Gabriel" and "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm." The chorus has nothing else to do in the movie except reappear to sing the finale. Many Marx Brothers fans consider this sequence as objectionable on an Ethnic Scrappy level, while some say it's not really that bad by itself and the choir are very good, but it just stops the plot dead and its earnestness clashes painfully with the Marxes' usual slapstick and wisecracks.
    • There's also the water ballet sequence, which even the film historian on the DVD commentary advises you to skip!
    • Pretty much all of the MGM Marx Bros. movies have a disposable musical number or two - Races at least has the exceptional talents of Ivie Anderson and Whitey's Lindy Hoppers on full display. The funny thing is that these moments weren't so much filler as they were a throwback to old vaudeville variety shows, but it can be fairly jarring for modern audiences.
  • The Transformers Film Series has a lot of this. The first movie has a subplot involving hackers that, in retrospect, does absolutely nothing to move the plot forward. (It didn't help that the scenes were a little boring and featured some spectacularly bad Hollywood Hacking.) The Romantic Plot Tumor in both movies tends to fit the "Why should we care?" aspect due to how jarring it is next to the action that everyone came to see.
  • The original The Last House on the Left would occasionally cut away from the main plot to show the antics of a pair incompetent cops trying to get back to the Collingwood house.
  • In The Matrix Revolutions, the machines are plotting to destroy Zion. They have done this six times before, and there is nothing special about this Zion. The only hope is that Neo can stop the machines at the source. This does not change that about 60%-70% of the movie is about the battle at Zion, with Neo's adventure as almost an afterthought.
  • The subplot with the teenage couple in the car in Manos: The Hands of Fate is completely irrelevant to what's going on with the rest of the cast. It briefly appears to have gained a shred of relevance when the couple points the police in the direction of where the main characters are. The police go to investigate and even hear a gunshot... and then immediately give up ("Sound does travel a long way at night. It could be clear over in Mexico, for that matter.") thus making the subplot entirely pointless again.
  • In Stealth, after Jessica Biel's character gets shot down, she manages to safely land in North Korea, meaning the audience has to be repeatedly subjected to scenes of her attempting to flee the North Korean army. The main plot of the film (about an AI fighter jet which goes rogue and attempts to instigate nuclear war) is pointlessly and awkwardly dropped off so that the climax of the film can be about saving her from North Korea.
  • According to Roger Ebert, Pearl Harbor is about how on December 7th, 1941, the Japanese forces staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle. Especially baffling because none of the main characters are present for the initial attack.
  • According to Kevin Smith, during the initial writing for a Superman film that never got made, Jon Peters demanded a scene about Brainiac fighting a polar bear, just to add another "action beat" to the movie.
  • The cop subplot (if you can even call it that, considering how thin it is) from the original version of The Amityville Horror (1979).
  • The excuse for the stunt flying competition in State of the Union is that the protagonist is an airplane tycoon. It's still strikingly irrelevant sequence for a political comedy, especially one based on a play.
  • From Russia with Love has a lengthy subplot where Bond has to aid his friend Kerim Bay against an assassin making an attempt on his life. The original novel had this as well.
  • The main plot of The Ledge deals with a love triangle between a Christian, an atheist and the former's wife. However, for some reason there is also the sub-plot of the cop discovering that his children are not his.
  • Several scenes in Dario Argento's Deep Red focus on Rome's police department dealing with an officer's strike. While partially explaining why the protagonist must investigate the murders himself, these scenes are handled so perfunctorily they add nothing to the film.
  • The film SST: Death Flight (one of the first films to be riffed by Mystery Science Theater 3000) is exceptionally guilty of this. The main plot is about a commercial plane suffering engine trouble with a contagious disease stored onboard, but there are innumerable subplots that have almost nothing to do with this: a guy and a wife discuss his possible job change, a woman and her lover (John de Lancie) meet her ex (Peter Graves) and tension ensues, a consultant on the plane has an old grudge against the pilot, a beauty contest winner doing PR work has gotten knocked up by the company's PR manager, the consultant has a budding romance with one of the stewardesses.
  • Hollywoodland is about a fictionalized investigation into the (real life) suicide of George Reeves (the star of The Adventures of Superman), but approximately half the run-time is devoted to the investigator's troubled family life and another botched case that ends with a client shooting his wife — none of which has anything whatsoever to do with George Reeves's death.
  • Interstellar's climax centers around the main character entering a black hole, which will either lead to an unparalleled discovery or a relatively exotic death. At the same time, the movie insists on focusing on the main character's daughter trying to sneak past her suddenly irrationally hostile but never actually dangerous brother into their family home.
  • This happens a lot in the later films of The Hobbit, thanks to the massive amount of Adaptation Expansion going on.
    • The subplot of Gandalf investigating the Necromancer, originally explained in the appendices, pretty much goes nowhere and doesn't have any bearing on the overall story aside from tying into The Lord of the Rings (and it's a pretty loose tie, considering that the two plots have very little to do with each other). It reveals the orcs are working for somebody, but they already have multiple leader figures and a motivation for chasing the dwarves, so it's basically an answer to a question no one was asking. This is to be expected, as the entire plotline happened offscreen in the book (and Tolkien admitted the whole thing was just a throwaway excuse to get Gandalf out of the picture for a bit; he didn't envision while writing The Hobbit that the Necromancer and Sauron were the same person).
    • The subplot with the Legolas/Tauriel/Kili love triangle, completely added for the film. It has essentially no bearing on the overall storyline, to the point of two-thirds of its members being a Canon Immigrant and Canon Foreigner, but eats up a lot of screentime, to the point of overshadowing much more plot-relevant arcs in the third film. According to Evangeline Lilly, the entire love triangle was added in reshoots, over her objections and despite Peter Jackson's assurance there would be nothing of the sort. Quite tellingly, nearly any Fan Edit of the films that you can find will excise the whole subplot, often reducing Legolas to The Cameo at most, and it's astonishing how little it changes the overall story with Bilbo and the dwarves.
    • Even among the many messy subplots of the films, Alfrid's subplot in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies stands out. It goes as follows: Alfrid tries to steal something, Bard finds him out, Alfrid gives a halfhearted argument to his defense and promises he won't do it again, repeat three or four times. It strains disbelief that Bard wouldn't just shove him in a cell after the first time. Between Alfrid being The Load and a Canon Foreigner, and the fact that he never impacts the course of the battle (or anything, really), many found his scenes difficult to sit through - and keep in mind, this is in the middle of massive, epic, bloody war sequences. Even from the perspective of comic relief, it stands out as unnecessary because the series already had a number of comic relief characters. On top of that, in the theatrical cut, his arc has No Ending, and he just vanishes from the plot running away with an armful of gold. You'd be very hard-pressed to find a Fan Edit that keeps him in.
  • The bulk of the criticisms around the Russian family subplot in Justice League (2017) centered on how they felt out of place with the rest of the movie and like they were tacked on for the sake of giving the League civilians to be concerned about (which they were, being purely a product of the re-shoots done under Joss Whedon). Tellingly, the "Snyder Cut" never had such characters around, and even Zack Snyder has made potshots against it.

  • During his Malloreon series, David Eddings would frequently insert a chapter which revealed what minor characters from all over the world were doing. These were semi-interesting but ultimately had little bearing on the real plot (other than the ones with the ride off the island at the end).
    • It did help to alleviate the "Dragonlance syndrome" where the hero party seems to be walking through an RPG world where nothing happens if they are not directly involved. Eddings used it far more successfully in the Belgariad, though, where the war in the south was far more interesting than the walkabout of Garion, Belgarath, and Silk.
  • The Star Wars: Legacy of the Force books are plagued by this, from Jaina's unending token Love Triangle to the Mandalorian subplots in Karen Traviss' books, which are notably being ignored by the other two writers. Guess the main plot, with Jacen Solo and his quest to become a Sith Lord, is just that irrelevant.
    • The Black Fleet Crisis is even worse, with two entirely separate stories, having no connection except that they take place at the same time and end up with characters in the same star system after everything has been resolved, and one of them serving no purpose except to include Lando in the book.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire is a strange case when it comes to this - due to the books' sprawling, as-yet-vague Myth Arc, relatively slow pace and Loads and Loads of Characters, people have accused both the currently-central gritty civil war & politics plot and the currently-in-the-background more fantastical elements (Daenerys' and Jon's plots specifically) of being this, although both camps could be seen as missing the point of the series.
    • Then came A Feast For Crows, which features Brienne looking for Sansa and Arya Stark, who by this point the readers know are finally relatively safe and near impossible for her to find, following numerous leads that the readers know are false and finally getting herself hanged and lots of new POV characters in parts of the setting a long way away from the established centre of the conflict - Dorne and the Iron Islands. Lots of people found the new plots to be a case of Trapped by Mountain Lions, which was exacerbated by the fact that the book didn't include roughly half of the older POV characters. It's easy to see that the new POVs might intersect with the established plotlines, but A Feast For Crows did little more than set things up... which is in keeping with the author's description of it as "scene one of act two".
  • Any chapter containing the character Fletcher Kale in Dean Koontz's Phantoms. It's made even worse by the fact that, with the exception of the first chapter he appears in and the final epilogue chapter, he never interacts with any of the other main characters at all, and nothing else in the story would have been affected if his character had been cut. It's hard to find the escape of a murderer sociopath the least bit compelling, or find the character the least bit menacing, given the Eldritch Abomination everyone else is dealing with several dozen miles away.
  • A large amount of Iain Banks's Look to Windward is concerned with a subplot in which a character discovers what is happening in the main plot and tries to warn or help. However, because of the timing and the huge distances involved between the locations of the two plots, it is obvious from the beginning that nothing he does will be able to have any effect on the main plot, and though the subplot runs through the entire novel, it never makes contact with the main plot.
  • In the Inheritance Cycle, Nasuada's chapters in the second book, Eldest, which were primarily centered around solving disputes and economic problems within the Varden while Roran and Eragon follow much more meaningful plots. In Brisingr, Roran's chapters can also be considered this, as his role and importance are reduced and he spends most of his chapters fighting inconsequential battles against small numbers of Imperial forces, wrestling down a troublemaking urgal, and spending time and dealing with the matters surrounding his newly-wed and pregnant wife, while Eragon is, as usual, doing more important things. Saphira's chapters are also generally negatively considered, as they only serve to show how arrogant she is, the fact that she misses Eragon, and that her inner-monologue has a bizarre use of adjectives that never turns up in her telepathic speech.
  • The necromancers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach in Memories of Ice, the third book in the The Malazan Book of the Fallen. They travel to a city that later comes under siege, interact with various of the main characters, but contribute nothing at all to the overall story. (They do get a series if spin-off novellas, though).
  • Dear Lord, the "Perrin rescues his kidnapped wife" subplot in The Wheel of Time. It wasn't remotely interesting in the first place, and the sheer number of books through which it managed to drag on — keeping Perrin perpetually mopey and unable to do anything cool — was simply infuriating.
    • Everyone agrees, Mat Cauthon is the best of the Two Rivers characters. Robert Jordan remedied this by having him spend an entire book unconscious, and when he finally wakes up spend another book, nearly one thousand pages, as sex-slave to a deranged queen through blackmail and threat of force, while the supporting characters actively encouraged it. And he's sad to leave (Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male). A man with the power to attract evil like a beacon and Badass Normal fighting skills, the memories of a thousand conquerors trapped in his brain... and his entire role in that book was to have chapter after chapter dedicated to describing the pink frills he was forced to wear.
      • Luckily Robert Jordan realized that the one character people actually liked was shut away in a closet somewhere (almost literally) and Mat spends the next book showing everyone just how badass a Fourstar Badass can really be. And then he got about 3 chapters in the book after that. Figures.
    • Averted in Knife of Dreams. At the end, when Tuon finds out she is the new head of the Seanchan, she kisses Mat and rides off to claim her throne. Normally, this would have been at least a books worth of writing. Thankfully, it is cleaned up by the Epilogue.
  • The original novel of The Godfather contains two sub-plots which were cut from the movie for their total irrelevance to the main plot. One of the sub-plots involves Frank Sinatra Johnny Fontane and his buddy in Hollywood; the other follows the adventures of Sonny's mistress in Las Vegas and contains, among other things, no less than twenty pages on the subject of women's reproductive health. Presumably the author felt that this was an anvil that badly needed to be dropped on 1950s America, but still...
  • The Waterloo sequence in Les Misérables. Several other chapters qualify, but Waterloo gets the mention because it's 60 pages long and only the last 2 are at all relevant to the rest of the plot. That said, it is brilliantly written.
  • Theo Willoughby's whole plotline in Kate Furnivall's The Russian Concubine. Why do we care that the heroine's high school teacher is being blackmailed by his girlfriend's father into participating in the drug trade? Much less his sexual exploits with said girlfriend?
  • Subverted, interestingly enough, in Ian Irvine's The Three Worlds Cycle, with the inclusion of various plotlines that, while all containing major characters, are usually completely separate from each other. Then, just as it looks like a Trapped by Mountain Lions moment, the plot strands all come together to form a major twist. Though this arguably happens in every book in the series (and this is literally eleven books already), the best example from the first Story Arc (the first quartet in the Cycle) would be in The Tower On The Rift, where the main heroes are essentially split into three groups. One group is Karen and Shand who seem to be making their way across a desolate wasteland desert for no reason except that Karen has a 'feeling' that her lover is in the random fortress in the dead centre (that has blatantly been placed there for no other reason than to extend the series by one extra book). Guess where the Big Showdown takes place...
  • The adultery and organized crime subplots in Jaws. It's utterly obvious why those plots didn't make it into the movie.
  • The crazy state trooper subplot from Friday the 13th: Road Trip, and everything involving the two FBI agents from Friday The 13th Hate-Kill-Repeat.
  • The FBI's search for the terrorists who caused the subway bombing in Final Destination: Destination Zero; it eventually culminates in an abrupt yet brief Genre Shift from horror to action, involving stuff like a warehouse shootout and a high speed chase through the city during rush hour.
  • In The Lord of the Isles series, at least two out of the four main characters are Trapped by Mountain Lions for a significant portion of each book, after the first novel.
  • Really, several parts of Twilight. Even when there's this huge vampire war looming, the focus of the book is still on the relatively shallow romance between the two main characters.
    • Stephenie Meyer released a few scenes cut from the book. It's clear why her editor nixed them—one interrupted the whole "fleeing from a psychotic vampire" plot so that Alice could take Bella shopping for expensive clothes, while another one, set after the battle, had them and Edward randomly stop to gamble in Vegas on the way back to Forks.
    • In Eclipse, right at the final battle, Edward and Jacob decide to take Bella away from it to keep her safe. The battle is almost completely ignored so that we can focus on Bella (predictably) choosing Edward over Jacob.
  • In the Codex Alera book Furies of Calderon, two characters spend a while being pursued by Kord, a creepy rapist who seems more interested in creepy slave rape than he does in the fact that Calderon is currently being invaded. However, in later books in the series the abuses of the Aleran slave system and characters working against it will become a significant plot point, and the sadistic High Lord who is the ultimate backer of the slave trade will become a major villain; Kord's character exists to set this all up for the reader.
  • The Redwall series: If a novel doesn't involve the Big Bad trying to take over Redwall, but there is still a Redwall subplot involved, it probably falls under this trope. Some examples include...
    • General Ironbeak’s segments in Mattimeo, could qualify, but they sure provide a memorable villain.
    • There are five storylines in Salamandastron; in addition to the titular storyline, which at times falls to the side, there are two corresponding storylines each about a pair of characters who eventually converge, and two storylines that are followed regarding a “dryditch fever” plague: that of those dealing it at the abbey, and that of the search party that’s out to Find the Cure!.
  • The Slipp and Blaggut subplot in The Bellmaker. But since this subplot involves Blaggut, the first vermin who isn't truly evil or a Jerkass, you'll probably find yourself drawn into it.
    • Veil Sixclaw's entire subplot from Outcast of Redwall is this. Considering Veil is the title character (It's called "Outcast of Redwall", not "Sunflash Kicks Ass") that's quite an achievement.
    • Inverted in The Legend of Luke. It is because of the Wacky Wayside Tribe subplots that the novel didn't become extremely short and/or boring.
  • The subplot in Neil Gaiman's Stardust about the princes Primus and Septimus trying to kill each other isn't very well integrated with the main plot about Tristran and Yvain. The main characters briefly meet Primus and never meet Septimus, who ends up getting anticlimactically killed by the Big Bad. To be fair, it reads less like clumsy plotting and more like Gaiman was deliberately working against readers' expectations.
    • This was re-written a bit for the movie, with Septimus being given a more active role, and he and the hero meet during the climax.
  • She is the Darkness, the eighth book of The Black Company, has the wizard Goblin on a secret mission for most of the novel, with the narrator occasionally checking in on him via Dream Spying. It's revealed late in the novel that the purpose of this secret mission is to keep Goblin's ongoing squabble with another wizard from complicating matters during this critical junction in the war.
  • Tales of the City has a few of these kind of plots:
    • In More Tales, while Mary Ann tries to discern how Burke lost his memory, Michael finds the love of his life and decides to come out of the closet, and Mona discovers a big secret about the identity of her father, Brian engages in voyeuristic games with a mysterious woman (who turns out to be Mona's mother.)
    • In Further, there is the active plot of Mary Ann and DeDe desperately chasing after the man who kidnapped DeDe's children, and Prue Giroux's arc of being completely oblivious to the fact that her new boyfriend's a psychopath... and then there is Michael's arc, which involves him going off and having sex with an unnamed celebrity.
    • In Sure of You, as Mary Ann and Brian's marriage falls apart and Michael finds himself stuck right smack in the middle, Mona goes off on a quest to get laid.
  • China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh focused on the titular protagonist but 3 of the 5 POV characters had little or no connection to the protagonist. Two of them were staying in a Martian commune where the protagonist never visited but he became an online tutor for one of the POV characters there while other one is an acquaintance to his friends and only had one encounter with him. However, these characters provided different perspectives of the political and cultural setting where the protagonist lived in.
  • Enforced and Played for Drama in Stephen King's Time Travel epic 11/22/63. Protagonist Jake Epping goes back in time to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. However, the time portal he uses can only go back to September 9th, 1958, not a day earlier or later, requiring that Jake spend five years integrating himself in late-50s and early-60s society. Thanks to Stephen King's skill with world-building, some fans consider these portions to be the best parts of the book.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey The subplot in Fifty Shades Freed where Jose, his dad and Ray are involved in a car accident. All three of them ultimately make full recoveries and it has no impact on the rest of the plot.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 24:
    • The Trope Namer is Kim's bizarre subplot in season 2, in which she encounters a cougar in an event that Makes Just as Much Sense in Context, which has almost no overlap with the main plot of Jack tracking down a nuclear bomb that's set to blow up L.A., and exists mainly because Elisha Cuthbert was contracted to appear in every episode of the season even though the writers had no idea how to involve her in the main story. This was so derided that it was brought up in Elisha Cuthbert's next series, Happy Endings.
      Penny: What if you were, like, stuck in a trap in the woods and, like, a cougar was trying to eat you? Would you date?
      Alex: That's insane. Why would that even happen?
      Penny: I have no idea, forget that. 'Cause maybe your dad is the head of some elite counter-terrorist unit and he has 24 hours to—I don't know! The point is, would you date?
    • The first season was originally going to have Teri Bauer falling asleep for a few episodes (thanks to the show's Real Time format), since her storyline ended once she escaped from the terrorists that had captured her. However, the producers demanded that she stay in the show and so she ended up contracting amnesia and walking around not doing much for a few hours instead.
    • Jack's heroin addiction is given a lot of focus in the first half of season 3 without having any real impact on the plot, before being unceremoniously dropped halfway through.
    • Season 5 turns this on its head when a seemingly pointless subplot involving Lynn's drug addict sister ends up causing his keycard to fall into enemy hands, which in turn allows them to attack CTU.
    • The sixth season's story arc regarding Morris' alcoholism has similarly been identified as pointless by some fans.
    • Dana being blackmailed by her redneck ex-boyfriend in the first half season 8 has nothing to do with anything, and makes her being The Mole seem like a complete Ass Pull since if she was Evil All Along, she clearly would have just killed him instead of giving in to so many of his demands.
    • The Indian adaptation has one in the first season itself. Because Kim's story is split between Kiran and Veer, we have Veer needlessly fooling around escorting an unknown girl home, getting lynched by drug traders, caught in a drug bust and starting a fight in captivity, only to be released with help from his military school major- when he becomes relevant to the plot.
  • Although lauded for its dense plot, Babylon 5 has several major, galaxy-wide A-Plots interspersed with B-Plots; while they might be of great consequence to a specific character, they are trivial in the scheme of things. Chicago native Dr. Franklin resigns from his post as head physician in wartime to go on an Australian rite of passage? (The "Walkabout".) Though conveniently not on Earth; in the bowels of Brown Sector, which is teeming with hobos and lowlifes, where he predictably gets stabbed almost to death. After attempting to break up a gang brawl. While unarmed. Even Franklin criticizes Franklin for his involvement in this plot.
  • From Season 2 onwards, most of the scenes in Kyle XY which do not concern the eponymous protagonist or the central plot-line can come across as this. When Kyle is frequently being hunted down by a Mega-Corp and developing his mental abilities, it can seem a little strange when he receives less screen time than the other main characters' love lives.
  • In Season 1 of Gotham, Fish Mooney is abducted by the villainous Dollmaker after a failed assassination attempt. No other major characters show up in this segment, and it doesn’t even seem to have much of an effect on Mooney, who isn’t even a major character to begin with.
  • Thanks to the 2008 writer's strike, the second series of Heroes was massively shortened and ended up having several plotlines that never tied to the main plot: Maya and Alejandro Herrera smuggling Sylar to the USnote , Claire's relocation and meeting West, Micah living with Monica in foster care, and Bennett's standalone plot. Even Peter's amnesia while stuck in Ireland never fully tied to the main story. Tim Kring had to write a public apology for how unfinished Season 2 was.
  • Lost has this sometimes, from little-importance Flashbacks, to on-island subplots that don't contribute to the overall narrative (Sawyer crossing a jungle to kill a tree frog comes to mind). Part of the problem may have been that, for the first three seasons, the flashbacks were used in every episode. While there was initially a lot of praise for the flashbacks as a storytelling device, as the series progressed, some fans began to grow weary of the flashbacks, which tended to become less important to the character arcs over time and/or would repeat certain ideas.
    • Though largely avoided in Seasons 4 and 5, there is one instance where this is used subversively. In "Ji Yeon", there are Flash Forwards to Sun giving birth, along with concurrent flashes to Jin rushing to buy a toy and get to the hospital while avoiding comical setbacks. It's edited to make it seem, at first glance, like the two stories are concurrent; only at the end is it revealed that Jin's story was an irrelevant and inconsequential anecdote from many years earlier. His flashback was included specifically to mislead the viewer and disguise that, at the time of Sun giving birth, he had been left behind and is presumed dead.
    • To some fans, the flash-sideways. Sometimes (most blatantly in "Recon") they just recycled plot threads from years ago. They also, by the halfway point of the season, had yet to cross over with the main plots or have any clear relevance to them. Just one hint from the premiere that they mean anything. And they take up as much of each episode as flashbacks or flash-forwards did, while not resolving any questions or developing any characters outside of the ones in its own arc. They could potentially be viewed as Padding in-universe as well. Since the finale reveals that the main characters are having all of these flash-forwards as daydreams while waiting in purgatory for everyone of the original group to die so they can move on to the afterlife together, all of this screen-time is really just the characters engaging in activities to pass the time.
  • The Tudors: Sir Thomas Wyatt is a main character for the first two series of the show, and interacts regularly with the other main characters, and asks about and discusses current plot events with them. He has next to no impact on them himself, however, either in terms of acting or being acted upon. Wyatt lampshades this, noting that despite not really doing anything politically, he is appointed to the King's Privy Council.
    • The closest Wyatt comes to genuinely playing a part in the plot is when he is one of five arrested for committing adultery with Anne Boleyn. Unlike the other four (who have been set up by the King and Cromwell to bring down Anne), Wyatt actually is guilty - nevertheless, he is the only one not found so. Again, Wyatt lampshades the ridiculous nature of this.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Exploited in an A Day in the Limelight "The Zeppo" following Xander as he finds himself in a comical series of completely unrelated misadventures while his friends are off literally preventing the apocalypse and fighting the greatest battle of their lives. The episode title is a reference to Zeppo of The Marx Brothers, who was used as a foil for his brothers, despite being regarded as the funniest in real life.
  • Pretty much all of the Gibby only sub-plots in Season 4 of iCarly. One example being his attempt to get a $5 bill out of a tree.
  • In the final season of The Shield, there's a subplot about Sgt. Danny Sofer gradually losing her gung-ho desire to be a street cop, and wanting to settle down with a desk job and her new baby. This would ordinarily be a fine end to her character, but meanwhile Vic, Shane, Ronnie, and Aceveda are all busy scheming and manipulating international drug cartels, federal law enforcement, and each other to escape their fates. It comes off as incredibly small-time by comparison.
  • Kate from Robin Hood had several of these. She was always getting captured or injured, but special notice has to be made of the episode Something Worth Fighting For. In it, Isabella manages to plant one half of a broken locket in Robin's belongings, leading Kate to believe that Robin is cheating on her. She bursts into tears and runs back to her mother, wangsting all the while about how she thought she loved him. No one cared. What makes this really grating is that this is the second to last episode of the entire series, and most of it is wasted on the Romantic Plot Tumour, to the point where a beloved character's death scene is completely short-changed. It's technically meant to be part of the general theme that the outlaws are being torn apart right before the big battle, but what the writers don't realize is that the outlaws are better off without Kate. When she does return after realizing that she's been tricked, she doesn't actually accomplish anything except sabotage a peaceful protest that Tuck and Little John are staging, and then stand around telling the more competent characters to "hurry up".
  • Sons of Anarchy has this with Gemma (and, to a lesser extent, Tara) in Season 3. They into a series of largely self-contained misadventures that don't relate to the main plotline of the season, Abel's abduction.
  • The "New Cap City" storyline of Caprica was accused of this, being less interesting than other plotlines that were stalled at the time and home to some strange Fridge Logic as well. However, some interesting ideas were introduced- such as "New Cap City" being a Black Box of unknown purpose- and Tamara and Joseph received significant Character Development. It may prove to have been significant later on.
  • Once Upon a Time:
    • Season 2 has Regina brainwashing Belle and giving her false memories. It was easily resolved by the finale and had no bearing on the main plot.
    • Season 3's "The New Neverland" features a rather tacked-on flashback sequence set during Snow and Charming's honeymoon - where Snow decided to hunt down Medusa to use against Regina. They don't learn a plot-relevant Aesop as a result of the quest and it's already a Foregone Conclusion that Regina won't get turned to stone.
    • "Breaking Glass" has a rather pointless subplot about Snow and Charming going out hunting for Will Scarlett after he breaks out of jail. Snow finds Will and assumes Charming let him out as a way of giving her a confidence boost. She later finds out that this isn't the case and nothing more is said on the matter.
    • Likewise Belle's romance with Will in Season 4 comes out of nowhere, has no bearing on the plot and in the finale Belle says that she doesn't love him. Her story with Gold could have been exactly the same had she not been seeing Will.
  • Angel's season 2 episode "Dear Boy" counts if the viewer has already watched the parent show. It features a couple of flashbacks to when Angelus sired Drusilla - that don't actually have anything to do with the episode's main plot. Of course for people who only watched Angel, the flashbacks are there to foreshadow that Drusilla would later appear on the show.
  • The Bryce-Keiko subplot on FlashForward. Although it had one or two heartwarming moments, the bottom line was that it was a subplot about the main character's estranged wife's coworker (who also has terminal cancer, which is rarely mentioned) and his futile search for the Girl Of His Dreams who lives in Japan, but then she leaves to find him, and they continue to have a series of near-misses in LA, eventually leading to Bryce having a relationship with the main character's daughter's babysitter while Keiko works in an auto shop and then gets arrested by the INS. Then in the season finale, they finally meet, at the exact moment prophesied by the flashforwards, meaning they needn't have bothered spending months looking for each other. And then the show got cancelled. The subplot is clearly an artifact of a version of the show with a more widespread, interconnected cast a la Lost and a less-focused plot. Except that it sticks out like a sore thumb when it was the only unconnected subplot, while the rest of the show was about the FBI investigation and related conspiracies.
  • Dexter:
    • In the fourth and fifth seasons, Angel Batista and Maria LaGuerta's romance has absolutely nothing to do with the show's main arc, and many viewers find the banality overwhelming. The same goes for Deb and Quinn's romance in Season 5 and 6, which mostly just distracted from Deb's own development.
    • Season 8 was particularly criticized for this, with subplots focusing on Quinn's (failed) attempts at becoming a Sergeant and an odd amount of time spent on Masuka's daughter.
  • In Chuck especially in the later seasons any Buy More employees subplot is at serious risk of falling into this. While sometimes they tie back to the main plot in an interesting manner or manage to stand on their own, often they're just there, because the show's always been set in Buy More and so they have to have Buy More subplots. One example is that week's Greta being stalked by Jeff and Lester. Morgan tells them off, they don't stop, she threatens them, Morgan has to intervene, she tells him that their operation is unprofessional. Casey steps in to defend Morgan, giving their relationship a tiny bit of development that could have been gained by any other method, and she leaves. Jeff and Lester's behavior doesn't affect the main characters. Greta's presence has nothing to do with the main plot—it's pretty much just an excuse to have Adam Baldwin tell Summer Glau that he doesn't care what crew she's been on before.
  • True Blood's third season suffers a bit from this with many characters being disconnected from the main plot and having nothing to do and even more infuriating is that at the end of the season none of the subplots are tied up in the slightest and seemingly hinting at new Mountain Lion traps for the future including Andy's sudden dependence on V. Ultimately, by the beginning season 4, a few of these are revealed to have been subtle build up to the season's main plot. However, a few- namely the aforementioned V dependency, Sam's storyline involving his brother (which ultimately dove tails into an equally extraneous and yet to be resolved love triangle with his shifter girlfriend and her werewolf baby daddy) and Jason's subplot with werepanthers in Hot Shot- have all been resolved or dropped without ever really affecting the main plot in any meaningful way.
  • During Babylon 5, a recurring subplot in season 3 dealt with Dr Franklin's struggle with a stim addiction, and his quest to eventually find himself and pull himself together. Now there's nothing wrong with a bit of character development... if it weren't for the fact that this plot occurs at the crossroads of two major plotlines with galaxy-wide implications (The Shadow War and Babylon 5's secession from the Earth Alliance.). This particular arc felt rather minor and unimportant in the face of the others, and like a diversion from more important events. That said, Franklin's "walkabout" ended with a hallucination of himself chewing him out for being a selfish ass and running off to "find himself" while his friends are fighting a war and putting their lives on the line for the greater good.
  • In the fourth season finale of Merlin Morgana takes over Camelot (again) and proceeds to do absolutely nothing of importance. Having locked the knights in the dungeons, she forces Gwaine to fight her mercenaries for bread to feed his imprisoned friends, resulting in a completely plot-less sequence of scenes that add absolutely nothing to the more important activities that are occuring outside Camelot.
  • Arrow has Thea, Ollie's Canon Foreigner sister orrrrrrr is she? Her nickname "Speedy" seemed to just be a Shout-Out at first, but her full name proves to be Thea Dearden Queen. While she interacts with the rest of the cast more than such examples, her appearances are usually scenes having nothing to do with the rest of the story, in which she gets bailed out of something by Ollie and then gives him a speech that basically amounts to "My lifestyle is all your fault for having been trapped on a deserted island for years, then having the gall to have a life outside me once you got back." She's getting some Character Development and working alongside Laurel now, so it seems she's getting better. However the arrival of Roy Harper makes it seem she still won't be joining in her bro's line of work any time soon.
    • No longer the case as of Season 3. At the beginning of the Season she is revealed to have become an Action Girl during her time with her dad, Malcolm Merlyn. Then it is revealed in the midseason finale "The Climb," that she was brainwashed into killing Sara in the Season premiere. In Season 3 Episode 13, "Canaries," Oliver reveals to her that he is the Arrow and responds with nothing but gratitude at the lives he saved. In the next episode she learns that she was brainwashed into killing Sara. By the end of Season when Roy has left Starling City, she has joined her brother's line of work by embracing the identity of Speedy, thus leaving this trope once and for all.
  • There are a couple of episodes of House ("Wilson" and "5 to 9") where the focus is on a member of the supporting cast. We occasionally see The Team in isolated snippets where the episode's viewpoint character happens across them, usually doing something nonsensical and potentially lethal to a patient, with the implication being that all of House's cases look like this trope to people who aren't on The Team.
  • The episode of The Worst Witch "Monkey Business" has the caretaker Mr Blossom trying to deal with fungus growing in the castle using some kind of extreme spray. This plot point is not relevant to any other part of the episode. While he does foreshadow that Enid has brought a monkey to school, it is Mildred who lets it out and Mr Blossom has nothing to do with anything else in the episode.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Theon's subplot in season 3, in which he pops up in several episodes simply to be tortured some more, with no forward progress being made in his story until the season finale, and even then that didn't involve him at all but his sister. This is because in the source material the character is entirely off-screen, but the show-runners had to give the actor something to do. This resulted in a new low of gratuitous, even tedious torture, even for a show like Game of Thrones.
    • However the worst storyline is generally agreed to be the Dorne subplot in Season 5. The cause was the same: one popular character in the source material wasn't doing much, while another's plot had been cut (Bronn was playing an off-screen role in the King's Landing plot, while Jaime's Riverlands plot was axed before being shoehorned into Season 6), so the show-runners had to give them something to do, concocting a caper-rescue-buddy-cop adventure which turned out to be utterly pointless. This is the same plotline that featured the "Sand Snakes" - originally hyped as strong, formidable female characters they turned out to largely be used for sex-appeal with some of the most ridiculous dialogue in the series.
    • The show almost had another Sand Snakes "Trapped by Mountain Lions" story in Season 6, but managed to avoid it. The Sand Snakes show up in the first episode to assassinate the Prince of Dorne and plunge the kingdom into open rebellion, and then disappear completely until literally the final minutes of the season finale. The negative fan reaction could be the reason why, early in season 7, most of the Sand Snakes are unceremoniously murdered by Euron Greyjoy. Ellaria and Tyene survive and are taken hostage, only for Cersei to poison Tyene and make Ellaria watch her die, and they are never mentioned again.
    • Averted with the absence of Bran in season 5; we were spared seeing him Trapped By White Walkers.
  • On Power Rangers, Bulk and Skull's antics could sometimes feel this way - while the Power Rangers are fighting the Monster of the Week, they're doing something completely separate from the plot. For example, in the four-parter "Ninja Quest," the Power Rangers are searching for new powers and fighting the new villain Rito Revolto, while Bulk and Skull are training with the Angel Gove junior police department. Other times, they were busy trying to find out the identities of the Power Rangers, engaging in antics that never even brought them close to the Rangers. Mostly, they were pretty transparently just there for comic relief, though.
  • Invoked and ultimately subverted in Breaking Bad by Skyler's affair with Ted. At first, it seems like just an escape, between having to hide the truth about the situation from Junior, Hank and Marie, and dealing with Walt's increasingly erratic behavior. And then she gives Ted all of Walt's money...
  • Better Call Saul can come off a bit like this. The show is as much about Jimmy McGill's descent into Saul Goodman as it is Mike Ehrmantraut's rise to Gus Fring's enforcer. Although both plots are well-received, they also rarely interact with each other until season 5, when Lalo Salamanca becomes a threat that ties together the two plot threads.
  • Doctor Who was forced to use a lot of Padding in earlier seasons, a lot of which can come off as this:
    • "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" has a filler episode which, instead of focusing on Barbara's plan to destroy the Daleks, mostly followed Susan making her way through a sewer pipe and getting attacked by alligators played by some rather ropey stock footage, and Ian fighting a rather unconvincing rubber suit monster which is supposedly a Dalek pet, comes from nowhere and is never seen again (especially annoying when what makes Daleks so effective is that they have never looked like people in rubber suits).
    • The early Peter Davison stories occasionally suffered from this. Having populated the TARDIS with the trio of Adric, Nyssa and Tegan, it was obvious that most of the script authors then struggled to find useful things for these people to do. Adric perhaps came out worse out of this situation, changing from a mathematical genius when first introduced the season before to one that spent large amounts of most episodes assaulting a buffet table.
    • The second half of "Spyfall" has series companions Yaz, Graham and Ryan on the run from one of the episode's villains; they don't manage to affect the A-plot in any way, just survive until the Doctor shows up to save them.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, this is part of the divisiveness among fans about the character of Vic Fontaine, a sentient hologram that takes the form of a 60's Vegas lounge singer. With the Dominion War and the fate of the entire galaxy and trillions of people resting on the main character's shoulders, many fans found themselves increasingly frustrated with how often the important War arc would be diverted into a pointless subplot involving Vic, often just to have him sing a swing number; twelve of them, in full, over less than two seasons, to be precise. This was also particularly jarring as characters began to frequent Vic's lounge more than Quark's bar, the real bar that they would have had to pass through in order to get into the holosuite.
  • In Royal Pains, Evan is not a doctor, and thus each episode usually has him doing something that is completely unrelated to the episode at hand. In earlier seasons, sometimes these subplots involved him wooing some new potential client for HankMed, and sometimes whoever he was interacting with would require medical attention from Hank and/or Divya. But after he married Paige, their subplots usually involved their constant marital issues.
  • Although Downton Abbey is full of subplots that involve Loads and Loads of Characters, stories involving Denker and Spratt often fall into this category. As the servants of the Dowager Countess they seldom leave her home or interact with anyone but each other, and as such their stories feel completely inconsequential to the greater ensemble cast.
  • Cleverly subverted in The Flash (2014). In the first few episodes of season 2 a subplot is introduced involving Iris' mother Francine arriving in Central City. It doesn't get a lot of focus and seems irrelevant next to the main story arc involving Zoom sending an army of supervillains after Team Flash... until it's revealed Francine had a son while she was away; Wally West, the boy who's destined to become the Flash's sidekick. Thus the seemingly unimportant story has major consequences for the cast.
  • In Colony, there is Will's efforts to ingratiate himself with the collaborators in the hopes of getting his son back, Katie's efforts to ingratiate herself with the resistance in order to keep them from killing Will... and then there's Maddie trying to ingratiate herself with a cultural minister in order to get insulin for her son.
  • Daredevil (2015) season 2 has a lengthy case of this. Once Elektra is introduced, Matt moves into her plot line, leaving Karen and Foggy to keep the Punisher storyline going. But there's very little interaction between the two plotlines, outside of Madame Gao (retroactively as of Iron Fist (2017)) and a retroactive one through Wilson Fisk, causing this trope.
  • The Punisher (2017):
    • Subverted with the storyline of Lewis Wilson, an ex-Army veteran with a bad case of PTSD. The storyline is virtually unrelated to the ongoing storyline of Frank hunting down the people who killed his family, other than Lewis being in Curtis Hoyle's support group and Billy Russo later turning Lewis down for a job at Anvil on Curtis's request. Then in episode 10, the events that unfold as Frank arrives at the hotel to stop Lewis as he conducts an assassination attempt on Karen Page and Senator Ori leads to Frank and Dinah Madani learning that Russo is a traitor (the former) and killed Sam Stein (the latter).
    • Incidentally, outside of the car chase during the gun bust and Frank pulling her from her car afterwards, Dinah Madani's storyline has almost no interaction with Frank's storyline until the hotel episode.
  • Jessica Jones (2015) season 2 falls into this with Jeri Hogarth's ALS diagnosis and her efforts to find a cure. Compared to season 1, where her divorce subplot eventually tied into the main plot (when she tried to use Kilgrave to make Wendy agree to more amicable terms, indirectly causing the deaths of Wendy and Hope), season 2 does it the other way around, where the main plot is more of a launchpad that initially propels her subplot.
  • The 1990 Christmas Episode of One Foot in the Grave has a sub-plot about a boy missing his father, in which none of the regular characters are involved as anything more than observers, and which is resolved by a Deus ex Machina.
  • In season three of Riverdale, the ensemble's protagonist turned lead, Archie Andrews spends most of the season helplessly trapped far away in a series of ridiculously tragic plots. His absence affects much of the other plots back at home.
  • In Bates Motel, once Dylan stops living with Norman and Norma and moves out on his own he becomes far less important. He has his own subplot about running a pot farm, and connecting with his long lost dad, and later he hooks up with Emma, another superfluous character, but all of it has tangential connection to the main story of Norman Slowly Slipping Into Evil.
  • Many episodes of Full House will feature a plot line that has nothing to do with the "main" storyline or, at worse, poorly crammed into the A-plot to justify a particular reaction. Because of the many characters in the show, this was often used to justify giving an "equal" amount of screen time, but the meandering plots were best left alone.
    • One episode has Stephanie trying to learn how to play recorder, only to continually be bad at it no matter how much she practices. Uncle Jesse later tries to fix it—and it turns out that there's a wad of gum stuck inside of it. That's it.
    • In another episode, Stephanie gives Michelle some old tap shoes and teaches her "Tea for Two," prompting Michelle to perform the routine non-stop at the top of her lungs. Stephanie goes crazy from the constant music, steals the shoes back, and buries them in the yard, where Comet finds them. Again, that's the "resolution" of the storyline.
    • It's particularly egregious in "Silence is Not Golden," a Very Special Episode that features a classmate of Stephanie's who is being physically abused. The writing is surprisingly solid for the show, and the issue is presented realistically. Unfortunately, the writers felt the need to add a subplot where Michelle calls a toll number to get daily jokes without Danny's permission, prompting him to punish her by making her go to bed early. The stories cross over when Michelle gripes about the punishment, and Stephanie shouts that there are people who have much bigger problems. It's certainly true, but it cheapens the plot.
  • Ava's storyline in prison from season 5 of Justified, in addition to being mostly setup for season 6, felt like this.
  • The Icelandic Story Arc in Vikings which features Floki and a bunch of mostly very poorly developed characters that all turned up in season 5 (except one). The Iceland Arc has nothing to do with the main plot and has been one of the least liked arcs in the show. What makes it especially jarring is that it meet this fate because the show changed the motive of the settlers from the sagas where king Harald's tyrannic rule was the reason Iceland was settled.
  • In Orphan Black's third season, Alison's arc involves her and Donnie running for the school trustee election. This eventually escalates into them becoming drug dealers involved with Portuguese gangsters, and ends with Helena murdering said gangsters. None of this has anything to do with the main clone-conspiracy arc that the other characters are dealing with, and the few times Alison join them doesn't affect her own storyline. The only thing preventing it from being completely superfluous is that the consequences of the drug operation is used against them in the next season.
  • Twin Peaks:
    • In the back half of season 2, James and to a lesser extent Donna suffer from this. James gets framed for murder by the Marsh siblings, two entirely new characters who have no connection to Twin Peaks except living a few towns over, and then of course Donna tries to get him out of it, which means that, for the episodes this subplot runs, all of James's screentime and almost all of Donna's is spent outside of town, not at all connected to the show's actual plot or the other characters. This plot is eventually used to write James out—but James had already decided to leave town before the Marshes waylaid him, making this a lot of screentime spent on what was ultimately a redundancy.
    • Audrey also has this; the Horne family drama and her romance with John Justice Wheeler occupy 99% her time and also do not bear on the main plot. (Not coincidentally, both of these irrelevant subplots happen at the same time, in the episodes immediately following the reveal of who killed Laura Palmer. The writers had not planned, or wanted, to answer that question so early, and so the lynchpin holding the whole cast together was suddenly gone, with nothing ready to replace it.)
  • On the Gamera vs. Zigra episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, there's a completely irrelevant scene in the movie about a restaurant owner trying to get ahold of a particular kind of fish for a fancy dinner. This despite the fact that Japan is being attacked by giant monsters. When this scene is interrupted by some actual plot development, it's msted this way:
    Crow: Fish Argument Theater will be back, but first this scene from Plot Convenience Playhouse!
  • In season 2 of Doom Patrol, Cyborg returns home to Detroit and spends much of his time there pursuing an ultimately doomed romance with Roni, a young woman who turns out to be a former superpowered mercenary. While it plays a significant role in his personal development, making him question his Black-and-White Morality, the only time it is relevant to the larger season arc is when he and Roni return to Doom Manor in hopes of having the Chief fix Roni's failing implants. Thankfully, season 3 does a course correction - Roni goes back to a life of crime, Vic is forced to leave Detroit because he prevented her from being arrested, and thus he rejoins Doom Patrol and is heavily involved in the season's main arc.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering's Weatherlight Saga has a couple of these:
    • Prophecy. Smack-bang in the middle of the Saga (which is, as a reminder, an epic story about the crew of the flying ship Weatherlight who travel to another world to rescue their captain and end up defending their world from an Alien Invasion), we get a set and accompanying novel about the Keldons invading Jamuraa. It does involve a few characters from the Saga, but they proceed to do almost nothing for the entire novel.
    • The rise of the primevals in Planeshift. How much impact does the rise of five ancient dragon gods have on the main storyline? Just enough to be defeated after a single battle, after which they are never heard from again.
  • Everyone in Warhammer 40,000. And that's not just a jab at the franchise being a Cosmic Horror Story. The "main plot" that will decide the future of the galaxy is Abaddon's 13th Black Crusade to destroy Terra and conquer the galaxy in the name of Chaos, but Games Workshop has absolutely no intention of actually resolving that story, ever. As such, everything that the players can do with their minis, as well as almost all the stories in the army supplements, are taking place right as the Black Crusade is being put together, but will almost certainly have no impact on it (at least, not directly). This has intrigued many fans and pissed off just as many.
    • In 2016 the plot actually advanced enough to alter the status quo in preparation for the 8th edition.

  • The Shriners ballet in Bye Bye Birdie.
  • "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" from The King and I is a Show Within a Show that runs on for 15 minutes, with only An Aesop near the end linking it to the plot. The ballet music is unmelodic and represents more the work of an arranger than of Richard Rodgers.

    Video Games 
  • In Katamari Damacy there are cutscenes in between every few levels and after you create a new constellation when some Lego-looking kids comment on the stars being gone/coming slowly back. It has no bearing on what little plot there is, especially since nobody listens to them anyway.
  • Rose, the Annoying Video Game Helper girlfriend from Metal Gear Solid 2, won't stop calling and insisting on talking about her relationship with Raiden. Even though he's, you know, in the middle of a highly-dangerous mission all by himself.
  • Because the students got separated when they were pulled into the evil Heavenly Host school in Corpse Party, there were multiple sub-plots as each chapter focused on different characters. Most of these involved trying to find a way out, dodging sadistic ghosts, getting possessed, being brutually murdered ... and in the case of Satoshi and Yuka, trying to find a working toilet so she could go potty. It dragged on for a ridiculous amount of time, tracking down various toilets only to move on because they were damaged, blocked by gaping holes in the floor, or full of hanged girls, to the point that any normal person would have just peed in the corner and been done with it. It got worse when it tied into a "Find Yuka" sub-plot, simply because they got separated when she tried peeing outside (and she still didn't end up doing it).
  • Kingdom Hearts II already suffers from too many plot threads, but one that stands out as particularly pointless is the Cloud vs. Sephiroth subplot. Aside from fighting Sephiroth for no real reason, Sora, Donald and Goofy do literally nothing in it except watch as Cloud, Tifa and Sephiroth talk about things that neither they nor the audience are privy to.
  • Some installments of the Sonic the Hedgehog series fall victim to this as a result of having Loads and Loads of Characters:
    • Half the alternate characters' quests in Sonic Adventure are rather disconnected from the main story involving Chaos and Tikal's resurrection, making the latter teleporting them to their backstory seem a questionable resort. Amy and Big are only connected via a single Chaos Emerald their animal companion is holding (which in Amy's case is lost halfway through the story). E-102 Gamma serves Dr. Eggman at the start of the game, but as a more menial minion than Chaos, after which he resorts to finding his E-Series brethren who are even more disconnected from the main story.
    • Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) suffers from this. While Sonic is attempting to rescue Princess Elise from Eggman, who never stays put, Shadow and Silver are doing much more plot-critical activities, such as attempting to figure out the identity of Mephiles the Dark or preventing the Bad Future.
  • The BlazBlue series most definitely, particularly in the first game. Each cast member has their own story path, but only about 4 or 5 of them have anything to do with the overall plot. The sequels handle this slightly better by intersecting the plots of the many characters and giving the lesser ones more focus. The third game's kind of egregious as its narrative only focuses on the main characters, leaving a lot of supporting characters in the dust and their plot threads hanging. It gets a bit better in the fourth game where while the focus is still primarily on the main characters, there are sub-scenarios that wrap up a lot of supporting plot threads.
  • Mass Effect 2:
    • Subverted with the game's side-plots. The main story revolves around going for a Suicide Mission into the lair of the Collectors. But a bunch of the gameplay revolves around each party members' personal issues, coined as "Loyalty Missions", such as Miranda worrying of the safety of her sister, or Garrus' grudge against a traitor that cost him his team. Not one of these has anything to do with the main plot. However, if you treat them like some insignificant side-missions and want to just focus on the "main, most important mission"... well, the party members who are not loyal will deliver sub-par performances (because the unresolved problems still linger in their heads), possibly killing them or even someone else (and in the worst case, making the mission end in a Pyrrhic Victory with Shepard perishing, too). In other words, this game encourages you to deal with those trapped by mountain lions instead of ignoring them, or you'll be punished for it.
    • The main plot of the game fell prey to this retroactively. Several critics have pointed out that the Collector plot is ultimately pointless to the overarching goal of stopping the Reapers as Mass Effect 3 failed to capitalize on anything from it. Some fans disagree and the quality of the main story is still a point of contention with fans to this day.
  • In Noir: A Shadowy Thriller (the last game created by Cyberdreams before they collapsed), the player is a Hard Boiled Detective assisting a fellow detective with some cases. Most of the cases are pretty important stuff like murders and Nazi plots, but one involves helping some rich lady find her missing dog, which even your fellow detective lamphades is a waste of time. Inexplicably, the missing dog case gets more focus than any of the others and retrieving the dog through a simple puzzle serves as the game's climax (which comes after the player has beaten Nazi spies and sunk a Japanese freighter). When Retsupurae riffed the game, they noted how the detective seems far more intrigued by a terrier getting kidnapped than he did by fighting mobsters and murderers.
  • LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2: At one point the heroes split up into two teams, as they try to recover Nexus fragments and put a stop to Kang, Team Thor and Team Spider-Man (with a third plotline of the Guardians of the Galaxy getting into trouble on their own). Then, suddenly and without any prior build-up, the Inhumans show up having their own problems with Maximus the Mad.
  • Played for Laughs in Flower, Sun and Rain as a Deconstruction of time-wasting side quests and mini-games in video games with epic plots. Your character is stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop where he is supposed to stop the terrorist bombing of a plane, but he keeps getting unwillingly sidetracked by pointless demands from NPCs, amenities on the island, and generally strange events. In other words, you play as a character in a narrative who wants to follow the main plot but is instead eternally Trapped By Mountain Lions.

  • Invoked in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja a few times, such as the incident where dinosaur Yoshi steals ape receptionist Judy's hotdogs, while the Doctor is getting killed as part of a plot to conquer the US.
  • Homestuck parodies this with the Viceroy Bubbles Von Salamancer subplot made to spite Vriska for wanting more screen time in the comic. It lasts only a few pages, and ends up having no pull on the plot, but it's funny nonetheless.
  • The Order of the Stick
    Kubota: My trial will last a few weeks, at most, and when it is over Hinjo will look like an out-of touch buffoon for even bringing up charges against me — a beloved pillar of the community — while his people waste away at sea. Now, come along. Bring me before your master so that we may begin the Trial of the Century.
    Elan: Yeah, well, we'll see what they believe. The Katos and I will testify against you and then—
    Vaarsuvius: Disintegrate. Gust of Wind. Now can we PLEASE resume saving the world?
    • The frost giant arc on the Mechane during the trip to the dwarven capital. It was a roughly forty strips longs arc, that, because of the way the strip updated, it took place for nearly a year, disappointing many fans. With an apocalyptic deadline looming in the background, readers found a plot about a glorified random encounter to be really underwhelming. Coupling this was a lack of the comic's trademark humor, zero Character Development, an Anvilicious and disjointed diatribe about women in the workplace, and the primary focus on two bit part characters with paper-thin characterization who were mostly disliked by the fanbase as it was.

    Web Original 
  • The Pooh's Adventures videos ultimately lead to this, since the imported footage is usually very disjointed and overall irrelevant to the movie involved.
  • Red vs. Blue falls into this from time to time. It's been lampshaded more than once that The Blues tend to get the more plot focused stuff while the Reds just provide comedy. This is specially bad in season 9, where the meat of the season is flashbacks to Project Freelancer and Church is in a world based off his own memories. So the action will cut away to the antics of Church's memories of the Red team every so often.

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama:
    • The second half of "That's Lobstertainment" sees Fry and Leela getting trapped in the La Brea Tarpit after Leela tries to park the Planet Express ship on it and is largely them complaining about missing out on the A-plot. The storyline only lasts for around 2 (non-consecutive) minutes but when the episode is only 25 minutes long it becomes more noticeable. On the DVD Commentary the writer even admits that his first draft of the episode earned a note that he'd "lost Fry and Leela".
    • The fourth film "Into The Wild Green Yonder" has Leo Wong planning to blow up a large percentage of the Milky Way, and Fry learning about the threat of a mysterious "Dark One" that only he can stop. Meanwhile, the first act has Bender having an affair with the Donbot's wife which has nothing to do with anything else in the film, suddenly ending and never getting mentioned again after it ends. (The Futurama films were written as four-part TV episodes in order to easily incorporate them into the series' syndication package.) Part of this is because the writers got fond of the Mars Vegas setting, and expanded its role in the movie.
  • Season 3 of The Animals of Farthing Wood devoted a lot of time to the pointless antics of Weasel, Measley, and their children after they leave White Deer Park and cause all sorts of trouble on a farm.
  • In the second episode of the Family Guy three-parter/movie Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story, Stewie sees a man on TV and becomes convinced that he's Stewie's real father and, as such, sets out on a cross-country trip with Brian and Quagmire to find him. Oh, and Peter and Lois are teaching Meg and Chris about how to appeal to other people. That subplot, however, is dropped by the third episode.
  • In the Generator Rex episode "Breach," in which Rex wakes in a creepy abandoned town and must figure out where he is and how to get back to headquarters, Six and Bobo are Trapped by Scorpions.
  • The DuckTales (2017) episode "The Other Bin of Scrooge McDuck!" suffers from this. The main plot of the episode is centered on Lena, her relationship with her abusive aunt Magica, and her struggle with either remaining loyal to said aunt or ratting her out to Scrooge, only for Magica to possess her in the end. Meanwhile, the B-plot is about... Louie dealing with a Bigfoot con man, with his brothers passing the Jerkass Ball between them in the process.
  • The Simpsons:
    • The episode "Springfield Splendor" is about Lisa and Marge co-creating a graphic novel based on Lisa's experiences in school, and the issues that result from their creative preferences. Homer and Bart get their own share of screen time, but their portions of the episode are best described as a Random Events Plot.
    • Played for Laughs in "Bart to the Future." The main plot is a Flash Forward about Lisa becoming president while Bart is a shiftless layabout, with the Framing Device that Bart is being told this by a Magical Native American. It also includes a B-plot where Homer searches the White House for "Lincoln's gold."
      Chief: I guess the spirits thought the main vision was a little thin.
  • The Young Justice episode "Quiet Conversations" has a few plots going on: preventing Cyborg from having his entire being consumed by the Father Box, Halo trying to give the family of the body she's controlling closure over the death of their real daughter, and helping an metahuman acclimate to Atlantis. Then there's Harper Row's brief subplot involving a counseling session with Miss Martian that has nothing to do with any of the above.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Ridiculously Distant Subplot


Kim Bauer

The trope namer. Kim Bauer was a star character on "24," and while her character may have been divisive to say the least, she at least had an important role in the plot of the first season, being kidnapped by the terrorists to use as leverage against her father, Jack Bauer. In the second season, however, Elisha Cuthbert was still contracted in a star role, but the writers couldn't figure out a way to really work her into the main plot. What resulted was a series of misadventures so ridiculous that it felt insane they would ever be scripted into a series that would go on to win to a total of 20 Emmy Awards, let alone ever be broadcast on television. These included babysitting and getting involved in a domestic abuse drama, getting arrested for being in the wrong place in the wrong time and crashing the police car, and the low point of being menaced by a mountain lion in the wilderness and getting caught in a trap intended to catch said mountain lion. And viewers were supposed to care about this as it was unfolding around a high-stakes drama involving terrorist threats and nuclear explosions.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / TrappedByMountainLions

Media sources: