Follow TV Tropes


Yo-Yo Plot Point

Go To

"Ah, put that thing away, Samurai. We all know what's gonna happen; you'll swing your sword, I'll fly away and probably say something like, 'I'll be back, Samurai!' And then I'll flutter off over the horizon and we won't see each other for about a week. And then we'll do the same thing all over again."

This trope is when a plot point, story element, character arc, or relationship arc is methodically taken apart, reset back to something resembling the status quo ante, and advanced over and over again. It can seem like the writers realize that they cannot successfully take a series past its basic premise, so rather than provide any long-term resolutions or adapt the plot, they keep putting the characters back where they were before and forcing them to learn the same lessons, go through the same Unresolved Sexual Tension, or fight the same Tournament Arc that they did last season.

This is distinct from Negative Continuity in that in the latter there is no expectation that the series' plot will advance. The Yo-Yo Plot Point occurs within continuity and is frequently all the more glaring for that fact. After all, there are only so many times that the same relationship can break up or the same character can attempt to go to college before it gets silly.

The Yo-Yo Plot Point can be an Enforced Trope in a popular series that is intended for a very specific demographic (e.g. True Love Is Boring to the target audience of Shōnen, so romantic plot points tend to remain permanently unresolved). In this case, watch out for Creator Backlash or a continually rotating stable of writers. Related, when a series changes writers, sometimes the new folks want to revisit plot points from previous arcs and deliberately reset their predecessors' work. If it happens over and over again, it can seem like this trope to the audience.

Yo-Yo Plot Points can be justified if they deal with heavier plot points. Most people don't snap out of their depression, fix their marriage, or overcome serious character flaws after going on a single adventure. But, since reality isn't always the best source material, unless it's a central theme in the show these plot points can be just as annoying to the audience.

This trope is not about plot points that get dragged out long past when they should have been resolved, but about plot points that are resolved, and then unresolved, repeatedly. Post-Script Season is related, but typically happens only once. See also: Status Quo Is God, Failure Is the Only Option, Sequel Reset, Heel–Face Revolving Door, Relationship Revolving Door, Romantic Plot Tumor, Aesop Amnesia, Full-Circle Revolution, Once per Episode, Here We Go Again!, and Happy Ending Override. Joker Immunity and Cardboard Prison are related, employed so that villains may be defeated many times over.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • A common complaint with Ah! My Goddess was that the relationship between Keiichi and Belldandy progressed at a snail's pace, largely due to this trope. Their relationship would seem to be moving forward, and then something would put it right back to square one. Whether it be some godly threat to the heavens and Earth, or one of Belldandy's fellow gods deciding to keep Keiichi away from her, it seemed like the universe just didn't want them to be together. This turned out to be literally true - in the final arc it was revealed that the Ultimate Force was deliberately keeping them from getting too close, and the penultimate volume is about K1 and Bell convincing her father Tyr to give his permission for their relationship to progress. They get married in the final chapter.
  • In Inuyasha, while the romances are definitely of the Will They or Won't They? variety, the true culprit is the main plot of killing Naraku. They get close, then he escapes. InuYasha gets a new attack that makes it possible for him to kill Naraku. Naraku levels up and defeats it. Rinse and repeat for way too long. Eventually, they finally do kill him.
  • Poor Sora of Kaleido Star is a living yoyo: no matter how hard she works, no matter how spectacular a performance she turns in, at the end of each Kaleido Stage production she falls back to the bottom of the pecking order and has to work her way up all over again. It's only at the end of Season One that she's acknowledged as the true prima donna of the stage... whereupon the show got a sequel, and a Post-Script Season saw her "star" status usurped yet again.
  • Ken Akamatsu, writer of Love Hina, should really have known when to cut a long story short. Most readers figured out pretty quickly just who Keitaro's "promise girl" was, and the plot itself answered the question in the 10th of 14 volumes. So throwing in umpteen further "complications" to spin out the romantic tension ("Is she really the Promise Girl?!!") for its 14-volume run wasn't really effective, especially since he and Naru outright admit that they no longer care if she really is the girl in volume 12 and finally kiss. The same thing happened with Keitaro's TokyoU career: he was accepted after the second year of the story, but in order to keep the protagonist's educational prospects as a source of tension, Akamatsu had a large bell fall on top of him, preventing him from taking up his place there, though it did result in him taking a level in badass in the meantime. Considering that Akamatsu is obviously a Rumiko Takahashi fan, we should be thankful that he ended the manga after 14 volumes instead of 45.
  • Early in the run of Marmalade Boy, protagonists Miki and Yuu find their slowly-developing love to be threatened by new characters, love triangles, and typical rom-com misunderstandings. Fortunately, love wins out, and they remain together in the end. This happens again. And again. And keeps happening. It seems that you simply cannot add another new character or event to the story without having Yuu and Miki (especially Miki) question the other's already-proven affection. A few episodes before the end of the anime Miki herself admits that she's tired of the constant doubt and worrying and calls off the whole relationship. This is later resolved, but you can't help but agree with her.
  • This plagues the elongated conclusion of the Fourth Shinobi World War Arc in Naruto, thanks to the Big Bad Ensemble. The heroes fight tooth and nail to defeat the current Big Bad, only for them to be upstaged by a new Big Bad, who forces the heroes to unlock new powers on the fly so they can defeat them, only to again be upstaged. It goes from Kabuto, to Obito, to Madara, to Kaguya, and then finally ending with Sasuke, at which point the series ends.
  • Team Rocket breaking up in Pokémon. It happens at least once every four years or so (at least back when they appeared Once per Episode), it never sticks, and it usually follows the same pattern (the trio disagree about something or get sick of their failures, quit, realize they're more miserable apart than together and miss each other, and get back together). This eventually produced a storyline where Meowth left Team Rocket for several episodes and joined Ash's group, only for it to turn out the entire thing was a long con that Team Rocket was pulling together as part of an elaborate scheme.
  • Rent-A-Girlfriend suffers from this issue. The two leads, Kazuya and Chizuru, are faking a relationship for various reasons, go through experiences that make them think the other likes them or they like each other, only for something to cause them to think they are either wrong or misunderstood, so they decide they should call it off, only to then have something happen to make them decide to continue faking the relationship. After a certain point, it stops being Will They or Won't They?, and more so inevitable that they will, but the author keeps repeating the same arcs, that the leads don't develop very much, or even regress in development to continue it.
  • Super Gals has Aya Hoshino, Rei Otohata, and their romantic situation. Aya has fallen into depression over being "A stupid little mole" and been dragged out due to Otohata being an aloof Jerkass whose defrost cycle is apparently being done by fanning him with an even bigger block of ice more times than one can count, and this keeps going far into the series, with the fallout from her uncertainty having lasting effects all the way to the last episode of the anime. The manga isn't much better; Aya overreacts to everything and lacks self-confidence the entire time she seems to be dating him, even going so far as to say it's okay to flat-out be told that Otohata had fallen for Ran and then crying cause she's "screwing things up herself". Thankfully, she gradually stops caring during Volume 8 and seems confident enough to finally stand by his side in the final volume.

    Fan Fiction 
  • That Look has two big bits of character development the story goes back and forth on repeatedly.
    • Naruto's intelligence is the first one. Sometimes Naruto shows impressive insight, highlighting his growth and causing others to remark how far he's come from the idiot he used to be. Then shortly afterwards, Naruto will lose 40 IQ points and not understand something incredibly basic like how scarce water is in a desert, causing those same people to comment that he's still just a dumb kid.
    • Second is Naruto's and Anko's relationship. After it's revealed Anko's been cheating on him, the story can't decide whether they've reconciled or if Naruto will never forgive her. This ties into the first point as Naruto will sometimes perform a completely idiotic action just to spite Anko, such as making a very flashy and dramatic attack on an enemy base that she wants to subtly infiltrate and sabotage.

    Film — Animation 
  • The Swan Princess and its sequels all have Odette turned into a swan in some way.
    • The first two sequels both have an old acquaintance of Rothbart as the main villain.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The infamous Battlefield Earth decides to have the majority of its run time consist of nothing but the main character escaping from the psychlos and then being recaptured.
  • Eighth Grade has its Shrinking Violet protagonist, Kayla, achieve what is a tremendous breakthrough for her just half an hour into the film: anxious at a pool party to the point of begging her dad to take her home early she instead pulls herself together, goes to sing karaoke in front of the other kids, and is so successful in her newly-forged confidence that even the Alpha Bitch Kennedy looks up from her phone, impressed. But as soon as the party ends everything goes back to normal and Kayla is a friendless loser, ignored by Kennedy and her clique when she anxiously seeks their approval at school.
  • Xavier Dolan's I Killed My Mother, which he wrote, directed, and starred in, has his character repeatedly fight with his mother, picking any excuse to pick a loud argument with her, and reconciling after a while. At the end of the film, they're left on somewhat ambiguous terms.
  • Jupiter Ascending repeats the exact same plotline twice in its final act. Jupiter gets captured by one of the Abrasax siblings who tries to blackmail her into giving her "queen of earth" title to them, and Channing Tatum and Sean Bean's characters stage a daring rescue attempt. The first time she's rescued, she's almost immediately captured again and the same plot repeats itself.
  • All four films in the X-Men Film Series with Michael Fassbender as Magneto feature him coming out of a quiet, low-key life to cause trouble in his iconic Well-Intentioned Extremist fashion, alienating his relationship with Charles and the other X-Men in the process. Half of those featuring him end the film with him pulling a Face–Heel Turn, and the other half end with him pulling a Heel–Face Turn.

  • Animorphs:
    • Tobias' "am I a human or a hawk" dilemma apparently gets resolved every time, only to show up again intact in his next POV book.
    • Visser Three is defeated! And comes back. But he's defeated again! And comes back. He's Reassigned to Antarctica! get the idea. As The Pop Arena put it: "Visser Three is there, Visser Three is always there."
  • The Bloody Jack novels have this in a bad way. Since Book Two, every single book has Jackie wind up in trouble with the law, be separated from her "true love", Jaimy, land in some kind of Attempted Rape / Virgin Tension scene, and flirt and make out with at least one attractive young man (or, on occasion, an attractive young woman). Usually, by the end of the book, the troubles are sorted out and Jackie and Jaimy are/are on the brink of being reunited—and then a new problem tears them apart.
  • Zoey's Unwanted Harem problems in The House of Night. The first couple of books had her being torn among her boyfriend Erik, her jock ex-boyfriend Heath, and poetry teacher Loren. Chosen resolved the love polygon, albeit in an abrupt and contrived way that brought into question Zoey's intelligence, by having Erik leave Zoey after she slept with Loren which severed her blood-based connection with Heath and then Loren turned out to be working for the Big Bad all along and was killed off at the end of the book with the clear message that Zoey had learned her lesson and would work hard to repair her broken relationship with Erik. But then Hunted brings Zoey's Unwanted Harem right back with her renewing her blood-based connection with Heath thanks to a contrived "you need to drink his blood or else he'll die" situation (and making their connection even stronger than it was before) and getting a Replacement Goldfish for Loren in the form of Stark. To top all this off, Erik is derailed into a possessive jerk to justify why Zoey is suddenly going back on her earlier vow to stick to just him, and she proceeds to repeat the "woe is me, I'm a ho for being unable to choose between three hot guys" indecisiveness/wangst from Betrayed and Chosen all over again. Tempted appears to try resolving at least one factor of this love issue for good by killing Heath off, only for Burned to reveal that he's not so dead after all and Zoey proclaims her love for him, even though she's still stringing Stark and Erik along.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.:
    • The main characters can't trust each other nor anybody else who comes along (it's somewhat justified in that it's a spy series, but multiple characters also espouse the whole "this is not a team; this is my family" mentality and get burned hard for it). Ever. They get the "What the Hell, Hero?" riot act, they learn to trust, they kick villain ass, and then something happens that makes them lose trust again. Rinse and repeat.
    • The size of the organization also tends to yo-yo between "Large international spy organization with several bases worldwide" and "Team Coulson plus a few associates in a secret bunker or on the run" according to the whims of the movies. The public opinion of SHIELD also fluctuates accordingly, seeing them as heroes, basically a front for Hydra, or anything in-between.
  • On Awkward., Jenna and Matty's relationship. Although they weren't officially together after season 2, their relationship kept going through the same stages: Jenna/Matty realized they're still in love. However, one of them begins to be involved with someone else. They briefly flirt with getting back together. Jenna then did something to mess it up. The other party would break up with the other person. Repeat next season.
  • In the early seasons of the new Battlestar Galactica (2003), Gaius Baltar goes through the routine of dismissing Six as a figment of his imagination, only to get into a big problem which Six's advice bails him out of and accepting her as a separate entity with Omniscient Morality License multiple times.
  • The Big Bang Theory: Leonard and Penny have been through a few breakups and keep running into the same exact same problems in their relationship. Most of the time it's due to Penny feeling insecure due to her and Leonard being too different (particularly their different levels of intellect) and her being afraid of committing.
  • On Boy Meets World, Cory and Topanga have three major breakup arcs after they first officially get together at the start of season three, and two of those arcs happen after their relationship was retconned into being life-long true love.
  • Over the course of Breaking Bad, Walt and Jesse (either together or separately) would quit cooking meth realizing that it's unethical, causes only problems or they have enough money then go back to business a few episodes later.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Buffy had a She's Back moment once a season, minimum, usually in the final episode. Every time she "accepts" being The Chosen One, you just know she's going to backslide.
    • Xander regularly has episodes in which he would come into his own, demonstrate that years of facing eldritch dangers without superpowers implied something about his competence and courage, and put his Butt-Monkey status behind him. ("The Zeppo", "Graduation Day", "The Replacement", etc.) It never lasted, though he managed to go back in that direction in the Season Eight and Nine comics.
    • The Scoobies are keeping secrets from each other, which causes problems that just escalate and distract them from the Arc Villain, until they eventually talk it out and learn to trust each other, with a lesson about The Power of Friendship. They would do this every single season.
  • Charmed:
    • Cole and his tendency to go in and out of the Heel–Face Revolving Door.
    • Paige is the most gung-ho about magic...except when she's having yet another subplot about trying to have a life outside of it. Also, how many times has she had to accept her Whitelighter heritage and help charges?
    • Phoebe realizes that she had stopped believing in love, but this new Temporary Love Interest helped her rediscover it; even though things didn't work out, she'll go forward confident that she'll find love again. And she will because this repeats itself about half a dozen times over the series.
    • Leo can't be with Piper because he's a Whitelighter...but then he becomes human so that he can! But then he becomes a Whitelighter again. But they hook up anyway! But now he can't be with her because he's an Elder. So he'll become human again! Oy.
    • Prue, Phoebe, and Piper each had an episode where they interacted with the Angel of Death and had to accept that some people couldn't be saved. Actually, Piper had two (and both wound up being Broken Aesops since she does save Paige and Leo, respectively).
  • Chuck: Chuck and Sarah's relationship. It's clear from the beginning there's a mutual attraction between them, but Chuck's poor self-esteem and Sarah's own relationship issues are just the beginning of their Will They or Won't They? troubles. The reset button on their relationship is smacked hard repeatedly throughout the first two and a half seasons as they get closer only for one or the other to decide they need to back off, Sarah because her feelings for Chuck make it harder to do her job, Chuck because Bryce convinces him Sarah's feelings for him will get her killed. The destruction of the second Intersect at the beginning of season 2 forces them to put their attempt to start a relationship on hold when Sarah has to go back to work protecting him. In the penultimate episode of season 2, it appears Chuck and Sarah will finally get together. And then Chuck downloads Intersect 2.0 and decides to be a spy, leading to a much-derided return to the Will They/Won't They tango (particularly with the introduction of Shaw as Chuck's rival for Sarah's affections) before they finally get together for real midway through the third season. And then Sarah gets Brainwashed and Crazy in the series finale, wiping out all five years of the series. It's strongly implied they stay together at the end and Sarah's memory hasn't been completely destroyed, but needless to say, fans weren't pleased by yet another smack of the reset button.
  • Desperate Housewives: Mike and Susan get together, break up, get married... after a Time Skip they've broken up.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the original series, the ability of the Doctor to control his TARDIS ended up like this. He traveled randomly as Hartnell and Troughton, then got exiled to Earth as Jon Pertwee during which he could travel willingly in a normal manner, with the exception of occasionally getting sent against his will to some nasty planet by the Time Lords for whatever reason. Then his TARDIS travel was restored and he was given direct control over it, though his actual piloting skills remained terrible and he often ended up in the wrong place. The Fourth Doctor gained full control over the TARDIS via his discovery that the 'secondary console room' was much easier to fly with, spent a couple of seasons with it under full control (with bad piloting), and then installed a 'randomiser' to help him avoid a godlike being that wanted him dead, forcing him back into random travel. The Fifth Doctor was back to direct control with bad piloting, and during the Sixth Doctor's tenure, it was even revealed the First and Second Doctor's travel wasn't random but directed by the Time Lords. The Seventh Doctor onwards have been pretty good at flying the TARDIS, under full control and capable of pulling off precision maneuvers, and the tendency to pilot it wrong and end up in the wrong place became severely downplayed (though still fairly common).
    • Every so often ("The Face of Evil", "The Ribos Operation", "Scream of the Shalka", "Rose", "Smith and Jones" through to "Gridlock", the Series 4 specials, "The Snowmen", to name just a few) the Doctor decides not to take on companions anymore, because he'll end up ruining their lives. It never sticks. (The new series comes up with some interesting justifications for this.)
    • The reboot series introduced the running theme of the Doctor's fears that he'll become just as bad as his enemies, and the moral ambiguity of wiping out the Monster of the Week, which would be introduced and resolved nearly every season. It reached the point that when a season eight episode rehashed the whole "the Doctor's hatred of the Daleks makes him the same as them" thing, it copied almost verbatim a line from the season one episode that started that theme in the first place.
  • Farscape examples:
    • Crichton and Aeryn's relationship. First Crichton is the pursuer, and various issues (Aeryn's own hangups due to her Peacekeeper upbringing, Scorpius, Aeryn dying and coming back to life due to a Heroic Sacrifice, then Crichton dying for good, but at the same time still being around) keep hitting the reset button of their relationship despite their clear feelings for one another. And then in season four it gets reversed, with Aeryn actively pursuing Crichton, while Crichton tries to distance himself (mainly due to fears of Scorpius hurting her to get to him). They variously hook up, get together and break up several times through all the insanity, before it's finally resolved in the final third of season 4.
    • The cast are always on the run, but who they're on the run from changes several times (from Crais to Scorpius, then Grayza, with the Scarrans sometimes thrown in). What really earns this series extra yo-yo points is that Season 2 keeps Season 1's intro dialogue, where John says he's being "hunted by an insane military commander" — and that's still accurate, it's just a different military commander now, and a different reason for hunting him!
  • Subverted in Frasier: after seven years of Will They or Won't They?, Niles and Daphne finally got together in the season 7 finale. However, at the beginning of season 8, it looked like the writers were going to use various plot elements (mainly Niles' ex-wife Maris) to stop them from actually being together. Thankfully, though, these issues were resolved in a handful of episodes, and the writers managed to integrate Niles' and Daphne's relationship into the series for its final four seasons.
  • Friends does this ad nauseam with Ross and Rachel, starting from the first season. First, Ross likes Rachel but never manages to act on them, through a mix of being a wuss, and events interrupting him any time he seemed about to confess his feelings. Then Rachel finds out, just as Ross, finally deciding things will never happen, moves on. Rachel decides she has feelings for Ross, who finds out just as she's (allegedly) over him. They end up getting together for about a year until they Go On A Break. Just as they both seem to be moving on, Rachel realises she still loves Ross, who is getting married. After Ross' marriage falls apart, the two of them get drunkenly married in Vegas, after which Ross realises his feelings for Rachel, etc, etc, etc...
  • On General Hospital Carly Benson and Sonny Corinthos have been married... and divorced... four times in the past decade.
  • Gilmore Girls: This proved to be a huge problem in the later seasons with Lorelai and Luke. After five years of will they or won't they, Lorelai proposed to Luke at the beginning of season 6 and he accepted. Instead of dealing with the myriad other potential plots the show had going on at the time (namely, the fallout from Lorelai and Rory's estrangement), a long-lost daughter was introduced who literally served no purpose other than to break up Luke and Lorelai and send Lorelai into a quickie marriage with old flame Christopher which in turn served no purpose other than pushing Lorelai and Luke getting together "for good" back to the series finale.
  • On Glee, Rachel and Finn are supposed to be the Official Couple, but they've fought and broken up and gotten together again numerous times, and are generally much less stable and mature than almost any other couple on the show.
  • In Grey's Anatomy, the whole Meredith/Dr McDreamy thing - they're together, then she wants him but he doesn't want her (although he secretly does), then he wants her but she isn't sure whether she wants him or not.
  • Heroes:
    • Claire's relationship with her adoptive father and her power. In the first season it was believable, but every damn season it's like she just found out she can heal and has a secret agent as a father. By the time she reconciles with the fact, it's time for her to start freaking out again.
    • Sylar's death. Apparently killed in Volume One. Recovers from his fatal chest wound in Volume Two, but without his powers. Then gets his powers back. Then, in Volume Three, steals Claire's power and becomes immortal - but aha! All powers get switched off during the eclipse, so he finally dies then - but, whoops, as soon as the eclipse is over his dead and decomposing body heals itself and he returns to full strength. He gets killed at the end of Volume Three because his power can't save him when you stab him in the back of the head and drop a burning building on hi - oh no wait, according to Volume Four, it can. Then he gets effectively 'killed' at the end of Volume Four when his mind is erased and replaced with the mind of Nathan Petrelli. Volume Five rolls around, and this is promptly retconned to his mind being still alive inside Matt Parkman's head - and then he takes Parkman over and even eventually gets his own body back. So Parkman traps him down and does the next best thing to killing him - imprisons him inside a personal Hell and bricks him up in a basement. This lasts maybe all of an episode before Peter Petrelli breaks him back out. Luckily, as part of the Heel–Face Revolving Door thing the show seems to love so much, he turns out to have repented while unconscious, and was last seen alive and well, again, but now a good guy.
  • House:
    • The Chase and Cameron relationship. They sleep together, nothing happens, they start sleeping together regularly, Chase decides he has feelings, Cameron rejects him repeatedly, they finally start dating, move in together, get married... then get divorced. Seemingly finally resolved as they wrote Jennifer Morrison out of the show (almost) entirely.
    • House's Vicodin addiction has him beat it then relapse over and over. Surprising many fans, after his stint in a psychiatric hospital, House managed to go the entirety of Season 6 without going back to Vicodin, even right up to the last moment of the season finale when he chooses Cuddy over pills. This comes after repeated failures in this area over the course of the series, and his repeated Off the Wagon moments are a pretty realistic depiction of drug addiction and relapse.
    • For a long time, this was the best way to describe House and Cuddy's relationship. They would get together, break up, sleep together, decide to be Friends with Benefits, actually become an Official Couple again, break up, and repeat. The cycle was broken eventually; House and Cuddy broke up (again), and decided they were Better as Friends.
  • How I Met Your Mother:
    • Ted and Robin's relationship. The first episode ends by saying she's not the mother, the first season ends with them getting together, they break up, they relapse, they wind up living together, have a Friends with Benefits thing going on for a bit, she dates Ted's best friend Barney for a while, then Ted realizes he wants her back. A minor theme of seasons 6 and 7 has been the strain of Robin being best friends with two of her most serious exes, with hints that there's still something between her and Ted. Ted then has multiple episodes where he supposedly finds closure and is ready to move on which lasts all the way until the final few episodes. As it turns out, all of this was a side effect of the ending of the series being planned and filmed years in advance, with Ted and Robin ending up together in the final scene. This meant that their relationship and any lingering feelings needed to be just relevant enough that hooking them up at the end would still be plausible. This ended up being one of the biggest criticisms of the controversial finale, as all the back-and-forth was instead interpreted as a sign that they don’t work together.
    • Robin's dissatisfaction with her career in Season 4. There was a pattern of Robin hating her current news reporter job, quitting it, discovering a supposedly-awesome job...and the cycle repeats with that job apparently being terrible too.
    • Marshall's career follows a similar trend. Get a job doing environmental law, decide to go into soulless, corporate law for the money instead, get fed up, and quit. Repeat. This happened in season 1 (turning down an internship with the NRDC for one at Altrucell), season 3 (turning down a job at the NRDC for one at a soulless law firm, then quitting), season 4 (giving in and getting a job at GNB, quitting), season 6 (get an internship at the NRDC, quitting to find something that pays more), and season 9 (getting a judgeship, turning it down to go to Italy and winds up going into soulless corporate law).
  • Kamen Rider Ghost: The show's central premise, Takeru trying to come back to life, became this rather quickly. The writers tried faking the audience out and making it look like he'd failed multiple times both in the series and in The Movie, even though it was clear they wouldn't actually go through with it. By the third "He's gone, no wait, he's back and stronger than ever", most of the viewership simply didn't care anymore.
  • Lois & Clark:
    • The title characters were married twice before they finally married for real. (To the point where the actual marriage episode was entitled "Swear to God, This Time We're Not Kidding.") At least one of the marriages involved the Frog eating clone of Lois Lane. Yeah...
      • This was due to DC wanting the comic book marriage and the TV marriage to coincide. Originally, the show needed the time to build that point, so DC put out The Death of Superman to act as filler. Then the show got to its point, but the comics were delayed and needed time, so the show had to fudge their intended marriage... twice... to accommodate. The title of the episode was just as likely a writer voicing his frustration as it was a joke with the fans.
    • Earlier in the series, before Lois knew that Clark was Superman, the scenario came up repeatedly in which Lois would bring up something important to their relationship, and every single time, at the worst possible moment, Clark would have to become Superman and perform some rescue, which made it seem like he was blowing her off and avoiding the subject.
  • Lost's love triangle between Jack, Kate, and Sawyer. Kate just keeps bouncing between those two guys like a ping-pong ball well into the fourth season. Lampshaded when she leaves Sawyer for Jack yet again, and Sawyer doesn't react at all, telling her to her face that he knows within a few days she'll have found some reason to get mad at Jack again and come back to him. Later after Jack and Kate get off the island, their engagement ends when it's revealed that Kate has been covertly fulfilling some promise to Sawyer, even though he got left behind.
  • Mad Men: Don Draper's Dick Whitman past comes back to haunt him in some way once a season. However, in a case of Tropes Are Tools, the recurring nature of the Dick Whitman problem makes perfect sense. Truly facing and dealing with this landmine secret (stealing another man's identity to commit desertion during wartime) would likely destroy the life he built for himself, a tall order for anyone and especially someone with Don's inclination to run when things get tough. In a more straightforward example, Don's alcoholism and inability to commit to a relationship continue to cause him personal and professional troubles throughout the show.
  • Nip/Tuck: lives on this trope in the later seasons. Characters from previous seasons whose plot threads seem to have been resolved are brought back in with the magic words "Previously on… Nip/Tuck."
  • Once Upon a Time: Rumplestiltskin has become the Dark One, overcome it, succumbed again, died, been reborn as the Dark One, lost the powers again, and intentionally resumed being the Dark One. His character growth and development are summarily tossed in the garbage with each trip through the revolving door.
  • Party of Five:
    • Charlie and Kirsten have a Will They or Won't They? thing going on in season 1, they get together, he cheats on her and they split up until reconciling near the end of the season. They plan to get married in season 2, Kirsten leaves him at the altar and they get back together in the season finale. In season 3 they split up due to her depression and she ends up marrying someone else. That husband leaves in season 5 and they reunite again. Thankfully the first episode of season 6 is their wedding and the drama is finally resolved.
    • Julia and Griffin. She cheats on Justin with him, eventually getting together until he goes off to military school, then gets back with Justin but they split by the end of season 2. At the start of season 3 she starts right back up with Griffin but then they go through more relationship drama in season 4 and split up again. Then seasons 5 and 6 have a regular thing of her getting jealous whenever he shows interest in another girl.
  • Queer as Folk (US): Brian and Justin's relationship is a bit like this, as they break up and get together again about once a season. Of course, being Brian and Justin, it's never quite resolved even when they are together.
  • Scorpion: Walter's and Paige's relationship. Walter acts like a Jerkass Tin Man Straw Vulcan, everybody is (kind of) ok with it, there are increasing amounts of UST with Paige that Walter tries to shrug off as "my brain is too logical to act like I love her", something bad happens that makes him perform an Anguished Declaration of Love for Paige, Paige is surprised, Walter performs a gigantic Jerkass act because he thinks his (or anybody else's) split-second act of irrationality because they care about another member of the team is the indication everybody getting closer to each other can start to threaten their collective rationality and thus effectiveness as a team, the whole team performs a What the Hell, Hero? and have a hard time acting during the next emergency because their collective hurt makes them unable to think straight, Walter accepts he was a colossal jackass and makes up, goes back to be a tolerable Jerkass Tin Man Straw Vulcan with UST with Paige... (wheeze!)... rinse and repeat. The series was, rather unfortunately, cancelled right on the cliffhanger of the team finally being fed up with this whole mess (among other things) and apparently deciding to split up for good.
  • Scrubs:
    • Each of JD's (very short) relationships mirrors the last one. Contrast with just about any other main character, all of whom go through some serious Character Development over the course of the series.
    • The number of times JD and Elliot get together, then break up, then... well, you know the drill. There was a joke in the first 3 seasons that JD and Elliot have sex again once every year. This was dropped after their 3rd breakup, though it was revisited at the end of season 7. When they finally got back together, Jordan lampshades this and says that after 7 years no one cared about it anymore.
  • Smallville:
  • On Smash, the person that will play Marilyn Monroe in the Show Within a Show Marilyn: The Musical (later Bombshell) kept flip-flopping from episode to episode, in fact within episodes sometimes. First Ivy, then Karen, then Ivy again, then Karen, then Rebecca, finally Karen. Halfway through season 2, it flips to Ivy again.
  • Just about every season of The Sopranos has an old friend or relative of Tony's appear, usually just released from prison, and then proceed to cause all kinds of problems as Tony weighs his options for many episodes before inevitably deciding that Murder Is the Best Solution. See: Richie Aprile, Jackie Aprile Jr., Ralph Cifaretto, Tony Blundetto.
  • Early seasons of Stargate SG-1 repeatedly have the cast pontificating at each other over the morality of interfering in alien societies, especially if that society has some shiny tech or resource the characters want, which ends seemingly resolved only to pop up again later. Eventually, the writers dropped it entirely, the characters concluding that while they'll save people from the Goa'uld or problems they caused themselves, they'd otherwise leave people to do their own thing.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Original Series: Thanks to multiple writers and a poorly fleshed-out character background, Spock's ability to lie and lack of emotions tended to bounce around from episode to episode, with some of them determining that his emotions were always on the verge of constantly boiling over and others treating him as an automaton with a physical inability to tell a fib. The writers attempted to resolve this long-running subplot in the Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan, where it is fully established that Spock has embraced his human side just in time to make a Heroic Sacrifice at the end of the movie, cleaning and wrapping up his Character Arc... And then they brought him back in the next film and it turns out he has forgotten everything he learned.
  • Supernatural:
    • The cycle is as follows: Sam (or Dean) has an issue but won't talk about it. Dean (or Sam) knows something is wrong and keeps pushing Sam (or Dean) on it, only to be frozen out. Tension builds. Sam (or Dean) keeps secrets. Dean (or Sam) finds out about them. Finally, there is a huge fight, and Sam (or Dean) walks out. An episode follows where the two of them are seen going their separate ways. Then they realize the importance of family and get back together, and the cycle is renewed. And the original issue that caused the whole thing never actually gets addressed.
    • There always has to be something wrong with Sam. It started with his Psychic Powers in the first couple of seasons, then his increasingly Jerkass behavior in the third season. In the fourth and fifth seasons, his drinking demon blood and the effects it had on him. In the sixth season, he was a Soulless Shell for the first half and had his Hell-wall for the second half. In the seventh season, he had the fallout from the Hell-wall coming down (mostly limited to hallucinations of Lucifer). In the eighth season, he started getting sick as part of his trials to close the gates of Hell. And in the ninth season, he is tricked into allowing the angel Ezekiel to possess him. Most of the time these events are only marginally connected to the main plot, and most were either solved with a Deus ex Machina or just quietly forgotten about once the arc was over.
    • After the first season, there has almost always been a recurrence that is as follows: somewhere, there is a Leaking Can of Evil. Sam and Dean must seal the Can. Whether they succeed or not is irrelevant because either way, the following season will involve the aftermath of the Can. Rinse. Repeat. Season 2 culminates in a battle to seal a gate to Hell, and Season 3 is the aftermath of Dean's choices. Season 4 introduces Lucifer's cage, and Season 5 is about the brothers and their allies trying to fix the epic-level fuckup that let the Devil out. Season 6 through 8 is the Purgatory arc. Seasons 9 and 10 give us a respite of a sort, but the finale of 10 unseals yet another Can. Cue Season 11 - trying to get rid of the thing they released.
  • The Good Place: The show toys with this at the end of Season 1 when after Eleanor figures out they're actually in the Bad Place, Michael induces Laser-Guided Amnesia on everyone in order to try again. The show then averts it in Season 2 when Eleanor takes all of one episode to figure out the twist again, forcing Michael to erase everyone's memories again. The next episode then starts with a Failure Montage of Michael having to reset everything again hundreds of times because Eleanor keeps figuring the secret out (except for the one time where Jason figured it out first). By the end of the episode, Michael, and the plot, are forced to change track because the plan just isn't working.
    • Played straight with several other subplots because the afforementioned Laser-Guided Karma both resets everyones' relationships back to zero as well as inflict literal Aseop Amnesia.
  • Veronica Mars in everything pertaining to the title character's various love interests, and most of all her on-again-off-again relationship with Logan, which induces half of the yo-yo-ing in her other relationships to begin with. The two of them go through a constant cycle of fake-outs, second thoughts, setbacks, deal-breakers, revelations, and reconciliation, spanning the entire series from act 3 of season 1 going forward. There's a reason this show reruns on the Soap Opera Network.
  • Victorious: While there are numerous instances of the two bonding or coming to some kind of understanding, Tori and Jade's relationship never seems to evolve, and the two always seem to be at each other's throat by the next episode.

    Multiple Media 
  • In the original run of BIONICLE, three times in as many years, the Toa learn to work together as a team, and Tahu and Kopaka go through several cycles of hating each other and gaining each other's respect.

    Video Games 
  • After being a Cosmic Plaything for so long, one would think that Kratos from God of War would learn to not trust any god who tells him to do something. And yet, he always goes along with the machinations and whims of one of the gods of Olympus or the titans who claim to be on his side, and acts surprised when they inevitably turn on him. Kratos then swears vengeance against the gods and that he'll never trust them again, only to completely forget about this come the next game. It's only in the Grand Finale of the series, God of War III, that Kratos finally seems to wise up, which is revealed to fully stick for the Norse series starting with the 2018 soft reboot.
  • Mega Man (Classic): Dr Wily will always be back with dastardly intentions and 8 new robot masters for Megaman to face.
  • Yasuo in League of Legends is a Rōnin archetype with three major woes: his master died, he was framed for the murder, and he had to kill his own brother in a duel of honor. Over the years, Yasuo's lot has improved — he was acquitted and exonerated (the murder was an accident caused by an unwitting third party) and his brother even came back from the dead — but every Yasuo-centered story begins with him wallowing in regret and ends with him making peace with his past and moving on.
  • Metal Gear forces its main characters into Aesop Amnesia due to its very medium. The series deals with themes of war and being controlled by others, and most games end with the hero realising this and denouncing the battlefield, and/or flinging off his metaphorical chains to forge his own path. The trouble is that it's impossible to have a war-themed video game character do this and still have a fun war-themed video game. Hideo Kojima is clearly aware of the inherent irony to the premise, but attempts to avert it (such as replacing the main character with a new character) tend to be found unsatisfying by fans, and so it is just dealt with as a part of the setting, even getting Played for Drama quite often. Snake is not happy about constantly being dragged back into things, with his PTSD getting worse with each game he's in, and Big Boss gets so disillusioned with his constant failures to reform that he outright becomes a villain. Raiden becomes so frustrated that he has to deal with crazed terrorists spouting philosophical monologues for a THIRD time despite his attempts to lead a relatively normal life working security that he gives up and regains his battle-crazed Ripper persona.
  • Tends to happen with most Nintendo franchises, though there are plenty of subversions, aversions and inversions:
  • Warcraft:
    • The relations of the Alliance and the Horde. They're at war? Not anymore. Oh wait, now they're fighting again... And here comes the next excuse for them to ally with each other! Lampshaded in the Crossroads cinematic when Thrall dismisses Jaina's suggestion of peace between the Alliance and the Horde, citing that they've tried several times and it always falls apart. And again by some random soldiers after the conclusion of the war campaign where one comments about the war being over and another remarking that it'll start up again soon, citing that the ceasefires between the Alliance and Horde never last long. Blizzard has basically forced their expansions stories to always find an excuse for the factions to be at odds, and what few times they aren't, usually involve the writers setting up one even if there is no reason to do so.
    • The Orcs' placement on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Ever since they pulled a huge Heel–Face Turn in Warcraft III, they've kind of fluctuated between being brutal barbarians fighting for a good cause and a race of Noble Savages.
    • If one Forsaken pets a dog, someone else is bound to poison it afterwards.
    • Per both of the above, the nature of the Horde itself goes through this. Is it a union of necessity between races haunted by their history and driven to the brink of destruction? Or is it a war machine that will use any excuse to go to war with anyone, even itself? In Battle for Azeroth, the leaders attempt to address this by doing away with the Warchief position in favor of a council as they feel the Horde is too easily swayed by a single charismatic leader.
    • Starting with the Tides of War novel, Jaina's characterization. Is she a Wide-Eyed Idealist who strives for peace between the Alliance and Horde at all costs? Or is she an angry, vengeful Mage who wants to see the Horde destroyed and is only kept in line by other more reasonable characters? Depends on what quest you're on, to the point where many cut plotlines have involved Jaina either crossing the line into villain territory or going against it.

  • No matter what happens to Joe during his adult life in Joe vs. Elan School, he always inevitably circles back to living at his childhood home and being completely miserable. He leaves Elan School, then returns and lives at home. He goes off to college, then returns and lives at home. He attends a foreign exchange program and graduates college, then returns and lives at home. He sells his car, moves to Europe, and gets married, then returns and lives at home. He and his wife move to New York and seem stable, try to move to Italy, then blow through their savings before splitting up...and then Joe returns and lives at home.

    Web Original 
  • The storyline segments of Atop the Fourth Wall all seem to revolve around Linkara finding out about some sort of mystical Eldritch Abomination or Person of Mass Destruction that's headed towards Earth, each of which is built up as the biggest threat the universe has ever seen. Once they're dealt with, an even bigger threat will come along, every time. It gets to be that the Sorting Algorithm of Evil means that some of Linkara's enemies will team up with him just to stop these new threats. The characters themselves are getting sick of it, and the inevitable Halloween attack is treated like a tedious chore they have to deal with. The big twist for the tenth anniversary was that after months of buildup the current threat was just recurring enemy Mechakara in greatly reduced power being used as a pawn by another previous enemy so minor Linkara had completely forgotten about him. The heroes effortlessly beat both and laugh the whole thing off.
  • The Nostalgia Critic doesn't have that many options for storylines, having no powerful toys or an Ensemble Cast, so the one about hating his job has to be this. Any time he gets out of depression to carry on working, you can bet he'll be down there again soon.

    Western Animation 
  • Finn's love life on Adventure Time. While his romance arc has taken various twists and turns, his affections have been mostly split between Princess Bubblegum and the Flame Princess. Even when events portray him as either getting over PB or breaking up with Flame Princess, a future episode will still show him trying to get with them, while they remain disinterested.
  • Ben 10: Omniverse had two episodes back-to-back where the heroes mistook a human with an uncanny resemblance to Vilgax, as well as a similar name, for Vilgax in disguise; "Mystery, Incorporeal" and "Bengeance is Mine". Although, only the latter dedicated the entire plot to the misunderstanding.
  • Nearly every episode of The Fairly OddParents! has Timmy making a stupid and/or selfish wish and learning he shouldn't make stupid and/or selfish wishes. Somewhat justified in that he's an idiot, and ten-year-olds aren't exactly known for their good decision-making skills.
  • Family Guy has had several episodes revolving around a main or supporting character having an affair.
  • Futurama frequently took advantage of circumstances only possible in a Sci-Fi setting to upgrade the Will They or Won't They? relationship between Fry and Leela only to send them back to square one, with several incidents involving Time Travel, some related Easy Amnesia, and at least one case of "Flowers for Algernon" Syndrome. Even after finally gaining Official Couple status at the end of the last movie, they were caught in the Relationship Revolving Door throughout season 5.
  • A major part of the DC Animated Universe pre-Justice League. Many of the sympathetic Batman/Superman villains actually get resolutions to their issues during their respective shows' run. In Batman: The Animated Series Scarface gets mental help, Two-Face Harvey gets his face reconstructed, Harley Quinn gets away from the Joker. Superman helps a blackmailed member of a black ops assassination group get her freedom. Eventually, all of these criminals (and several more) go back to their lives of crime, no explanation given. Made more frustrating in that in many cases, the Heel–Face Turn episodes are played as major Tear Jerker moments that are meant to take. While a handful of reformed criminals in the DCAU did stay on the straight and narrow, this trope made a lot of Heel-Face Turns a lot less believable.
  • King of the Hill in regards to Bobby being accepted by Hank despite his eccentricities. They would repeatedly find something to bond over, only for the next episode to have them again not seeing eye to eye. The Grand Finale contains such a plot, but its frequent use in earlier episodes removes the sense of closure from the episode.
  • The Land Before Time: Just how many times does Petrie have to overcome his fear of heights?
  • Smaller time frame (only throughout one season, which happens to be the last), but the Broken Bird arc of the titular character of The Legend of Korra is this. Three years after being crippled mentally and physically by The Red Lotus, she is still crippled by PTSD, nightmares of the torture she endured at the Lotus' hands, hallucinations (of Lotus leader Zaheer and an evil version of herself) and the damage to her body done by mercury poisoning. Several times throughout the season she seems to obtain an Epiphany Therapy and improvement of her body via medicine and Training from Hell, only for the next episode to showcase that she has not improved at all. This goes for so long that people disagreed greatly with the speech she gave to the season's villain in the end that the suffering made her a greater person (part of this is Values Dissonance (because spiritual improvement through suffering is a tenant of Buddhism), but critics pointed to that this could have been "learned" much earlier in the season and not turn her moments when She's Back into a collection of Hope Spots).
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic lampshades this in the episode "Fame and Misfortune." One irate fanpony demands to know why Fluttershy never seems to learn to stand up for herself. She points out that it's very hard to change one's behavior after a lifetime of doing things a certain way, and asks the fan when the last time they did a complete personality 180 after a single inciting incident was.
  • In the first 16 episodes of Nina Needs to Go!, Nina needs to go to the bathroom at an inappropriate time and has to be taken on a big adventure by her Nana, after which she promises to not wait to go again. The controversy this caused with parents led to a retool of the series for its later episodes.
  • In the first season of Ninjago, the second episode featuring Samurai X centers on the ninja attempting to learn their identity, until the end when Kai discovers that it's Nya and the other ninja learn as well later. In the fifth season, Nya abandons her samurai persona to become the water ninja and a new character takes up the identity of Samurai X in season 7, leading to Nya trying (and failing) to uncover who the new Samurai X is until season 8 revealed that this Samurai X is P.I.X.A.L. in a new body.
  • In most Phineas and Ferb specials, Phineas gets into a conflict with one of his siblings. Most of the time it's Candace, but in Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars it's Ferb. Night of the Living Pharmacists is the only special where this doesn't happen.
  • Rick and Morty: Jerry & Beth's marriage troubles. In season three, the two separate after Jerry forces Beth to choose between himself and Rick, with full intentions to divorce, but they decide to give things another go during the season finale.
  • The Simpsons: Marge tiring of Homer and considering leaving him. In The Simpsons Movie Marge does leave Homer after being unable to put up with his selfishness, ignorance, and shenanigans, and naturally they reconcile at the end.
    • Other characters suffer from this too, due to the Long Runner status of the show. How many times have Homer and Lisa grown apart and reconciled?
    • Lampshaded and played for humor anytime Sideshow Bob tries to kill Bart. At one point, Bob outright says he's only doing it because it's what's expected of him.
    • Homer's half-brother Herb Powell's first appearance in Season 2 ends with him losing all his money, and his second appearance in Season 3 revolves around him regaining it. We don't hear from him again until Season 24, when we find out that he somehow lost all his money again.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012):
    • April's father Kirby always gets into some sort of trouble for whatever current arc the show's on. Through most of the first season, he was held hostage by the Kraang and rescued in the final few episodes. Then season two comes and he gets mutated into a bat monster but is cured a little past the halfway point. Then in the second season finale, he's mutated again and isn't cured until the end of the third season's first arc. It seems the writers have gotten sick of this because by season four he isn't even mentioned anymore.
    • Splinter dying. Splinter dies or seemingly dies four times within four seasons (including one season where he dies on two different occasions).
    • Something is always happening to keep Splinter apart from his long-lost daughter Karai, whether it be her getting kidnapped, mutated, or brainwashed.
  • Todd McFarlane's Spawn featured many variations of "Violent psychopaths invade Spawn's alley and inevitably force him to butcher them to protect the bums he's pretending not to care about".
  • Total Drama is chock full of it, especially when it comes to character development. Things that seem to get resolved as many times as the writers need them to include Heather's Defrosting Ice Queen progress, Gwen and Trent's relationship and later the Courtney-Duncan-Gwen love triangle (possibly resolved at the end of "World Tour" but unclear), Lindsay becoming less of a ditz, Bridgette and Geoff's relationship, Cody's unhealthy crush on Gwen, and constant fluctuations between disdain and respect for Sierra. Duncan and Courtney's relationship is a particularly bad case: After spending half of Season 1 in Will They or Won't They?, the season ends with them (somewhat) happily together. Then Season 2 comes along and Courtney breaks up with Duncan, but they get back together in the finale. Then they break up again in the reunion special only for them to get back together in the same freaking episode.