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Mind Screw / Live-Action TV

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  • During the taping of one of his comedy specials, comedian Howie Mandel once executed a Mind Screw on a person from one of the front rows who got up to go to the restroom. As soon as the poor unfortunate was out of earshot, Mandel had the audience in the vicinity of his seat rearrange themselves, and then continued with his act. When the audience member returned and stood, confused, in the aisle trying to find his seat again, Mandel stopped his act to "help" him for several minutes while the audience went wild, before revealing the gag and letting everyone go back to their original seats. Additionally, comedian Mark Watson will frequently extol the virtues of randomly chasing people, and will do so if people get up. If he fails to catch them, he will Mind Screw them by sitting in their seat, waiting for them to return.
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  • The Angel episode "Awakening" ends with a Mind Screw. The entire Indiana Jones-inspired segment, where Angel saves the day and ends up with Cordelia, is all a fantasy in his head as his soul is removed. Even bigger is the reveal that the entire series has been a Gambit Roulette to bring forth Jasmine. According to Jasmine.
  • Arrested Development has a mind screw in a film within the show: in the episode "The Ocean Walker", Maeby can't think of a satisfying ending for a movie she is producing and decides to end it with the two main characters inexplicably walking across the ocean. She says the ending will be so confusing that viewers will have to say they liked it (to avoid looking stupid for not understanding it).
  • Beyond the Walls: Do the memories of Lisa influence the House or does the House screw with her memories? Is the little girl really the spirit of Lisa's dead sister or a construct of her mind —or worse: of the House itself? Does the House exist within its own physical laws or is it malleable, depending on who's in it and what they are doing? Does it run on metaphors? Is the whole thing even real?
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • The series does this in "Restless". The previous episode is the climactic battle against that season's Big Bad; the actual final one is some kind of shared dream/hallucination involving a guy with cheese on his head. (Joss Whedon said that when he set out to write it he realized after a bit he was attempting a forty-minute tone poem.) The mind screw aspect comes from the fact that it's possibly the most realistic dream sequence ever in terms of the bizarre scene transitions and staging—all four segments of the dream sequence are presented as one coherent scene, locales change nearly at random, characters appear and disappear, damn near everyone speaks in non sequiturs, and all plotlines and the characters in them are subject to change at random (with the exception of the First Slayer trying to take advantage of Your Mind Makes It Real to assassinate the Scoobies.) However, everything in that episode turns out to be Foreshadowing (except for the cheese man) so the episode becomes less mind-screwy in retrospect.
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    • There was also "Normal Again" in which Buffy is poisoned by a hallucinogen-producing demon and is torn between two realities: being a Slayer and being an insane girl in an asylum, with parents who love her and are trying to make her sane again with the help of a psychiatrist. But then, when the episode ends, it does so with an image of Buffy in her normal-crazy-girl reality, not as Slayer Girl, leaving you with the impression that the entire show, including the later seasons, are all a product of an insane girl's overactive imagination. Joss Whedon said he considers the series to be actually happening, but put that in just for fun, and if people want they can consider the whole series to be the delusions of Buffy. Which would also make the entire Angel series part of that hallucination, too. At least it's not as bad as that Tommy Westphall crap...
    • There's also the scenes in Buffy's mind in "Weight of the World", featuring lots of symbolism, doppelgangers, repetition, and Buffy's Issues.
    • The First Evil likes to pretend it is other people in order to make its chosen targets do its bidding, go insane, commit suicide, etc. In Season 7, it liked to imitate Buffy. We are usually shown when this is the case but there are times where she acts so out of character it raises the possibility that the audience is not actually watching Buffy, but The First.
    • The title sequence of the show always ends on a zoom in to Buffy’s face; but in Season 7, this is actually a zoom in on The First-as-Buffy’s face. Which makes this deliberately meta.
  • In the Charmed episode "Brain Drain", Piper is drawn into a delusion where she is a patient in an insane asylum. The demonic forces try to trick her into giving up her powers, but they are unsuccessful and Piper reclaims her identity.
  • The end of one episode of The Colbert Report had Stephen read a story from his book Colbert Report Bedtime Stories. It gets complicated, to say the least. It can be viewed here.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Edge of Destruction": Some of the TARDIS' stranger attempts to warn the travellers where they're going.
    • "The Mind Robber": Episode one was written in a hurry with No Budget (hence the 'void' set and the robot costume re-used from a version of R.U.R.) The weird dream-like setting of episode 1 coupled with the metafictional setting of the rest of the story and the disappearance of one of the characters at the end gave the impression that episodes 2-5 were all a dream.
    • "The Deadly Assassin": The sequences set inside the Matrix.
    • "Castrovalva" is set on a planet that is a figment of Adric's imagination and towards the end turns into a complete perversion of logic and geometry.
    • Classic Doctor Who managed its Mind Screw with the middle four episodes of "The Trial of a Time Lord" (it being called "Mindwarp" should have been a clue). The final two episodes of the arc attempted to clear up the Mind Screw elements. Due to a number of reasons, especially Executive Meddling and Died During Production, it failed miserably.
    • The final season of Classic Who is notorious for this sort of thing, mostly due to editing-room decisions made to shoehorn the stories into the X-episode serial format. "Ghost Light" is especially full of it — even the DVD-issued Special Edition is best tackled with a notebook and pen.
    • "Blink": In keeping with the usual fashion of Stable Time Loops, the Doctor only knows what to do because Sally gave him a folder with instructions, but Sally only created the folder because the Doctor set everything up. Try not to go cross-eyed.
    • "Silence in the Library" presents a scenario where a little girl in an ordinary house in the present day has visions of an enormous library, for which she sees a therapist. Then the Doctor and Donna turn up in her mental library. The episode then flip-flops between the two scenarios, and contains a moment when the Doctor manages to contact the girl by hacking a computer terminal, leading him to appear on her TV. Not until the next episode is this odd scenario given a sensible, although spoilery, explanation.
    • "Midnight": The audience never learns who, what or how the monster was, why it took over Sky and wanted to kill the Doctor, if there even was a monster or just a bunch of terribly conjunctive mishaps... the only thing we can be sure of is Humans Are Bastards. And it's one of the best episodes of the show.
    • River and the Doctor's reversed parallel timelines. How she manages to keep it all in that little journal is beyond comprehension. There’s a general trend for them to encounter each other in reverse chronological order, but beyond this it’s hopelessly out of sequence.
    • "Amy's Choice": It turns out that both options are really dreams and that neither one is reality. One of the realities the Doctor, Amy, and Rory are shown is the TARDIS, stranded in space; and one is the sleepy English village of Leadworth. The interesting thing is that Rory starts to believe that the TARDIS reality is the false one because it’s full of sci-fi tropes like time machines and spaceships and aliens, whereas the Doctor starts to believe that the Leadworth reality is fake because it isn’t.
    • The plot of the Silence throughout Season 6 is particularly convoluted, as this video humorously points out.
    • River Song, Amy and Rory's child, grew up back in time with the child versions of her own parents. More mindfuckeringly, River (original name Melody) was named after Amy and Rory's childhood friend Mels, who is, of course, Melody. She is named after herself.
    • "The Wedding of River Song": The entirety of time is taking place at the same time because River prevented the Doctor's unpreventable death. Which means the Doctor has to recruit the shape-shifting Teselecta (which he never would have met had he not tried to avert his death) to avoid his death to ensure his death in the eyes of the universe by having the Teselecta "die" in his stead. Meaning he has to cause his death to avoid his death to cause his death to avoid his death to cause his death...
  • Farscape has "Won't Get Fooled Again": Crichton is suddenly on Earth again, having apparently crashed his module and never gone through the wormhole... except he starts to see his crewmates around, acting extremely out of character, and no one seems to notice that they're, well, aliens. It just gets weirder from there, involving Rygel in bondage, D'Argo as a Camp Gay, repeated recurrences of Crichton's dead mother, Crais as a high-heels wearing police officer, and Scorpius trying to get Crichton to pay attention to him. It's eventually revealed that Crichton was kidnapped by a Scarran who's been frying his brain in order to get the information Scorpius wants out of his head. Also, there are two Scorpius in the illusion, because one of them is... something else.
    • You can just stop at Farscape. The series as a whole dipped into this so often that Crichton himself lampshaded it in a late episode when he realized their minds were being toyed with by the alien of the week.
  • Though Firefly is notable for being extremely straightforward in most respects, the scenes in the episode "Objects in Space" involving River's hallucinations can be considered a mild Mind Screw. It gets worse in the Big Damn Movie, where River's hallucinations become much more pronounced and vivid.
    • On his commentary track for "Objects In Space", Whedon explains that the entire episode is his take on existentialism.
  • Hammer House of Horror:
    • "Rude Awakening" is about an ordinary man plagued by a series of recurring nightmares — or is it about a man with a nightmare existence relieved by a series of dreams about living an ordinary life?
  • Heroes relies on this to an extent. Much of the symbolism (the "symbol", cockroaches, etc.), the religious subtext, and the obvious puberty / Have You Tried Not Being a Monster? themes that generally pop up in this genre. And that's not even getting into the Season 3 finale...
  • The 2003 BBC TV drama Home, adapted from J.G. Ballard's story "The Enormous Space", is about a man who decides not to go back to work after an accident but to remain inside his house and see how long he can stay there, living off whatever resources he can find. Not surprisingly, he soon runs out of food and drink (apart from water) and after a couple of months he's become convinced that his house is... doing things. Specifically, that the upstairs rooms are getting bigger. Since we see everything from his perspective, we experience this too. Towards the end, he briefly wonders if he's just imagining everything, but he tells himself that he isn't.
  • Done on the Belgian talk show De Laatste Show. One of the guests asked, "Can I mind screw my kid?" He then turned to the camera and said "Oh, look. Daddy's on the screen, but he's also right next to you on the sofa. How can that be?"
  • Life on Mars is weird as all get-out, especially the final episode, but still straightforward. Word of God says it was all in his head/he died. Individual interpretations may vary. The sequel series Ashes to Ashes (2008) takes the Mind Screw one stage further at the end of S2 when Alex wakes up from her coma and she starts seeing images of 1982 communicating with her saying she is in a coma there. But it's finally clarified in the finale: they're in a copper's purgatory, and they were all dead all along.
  • Lost. They can fill the rest of this page with arguments back and forth about whether or not Lost is "really" that much of a Mind Screw, but, in all honesty, this trope is the show's whole reason for being. Either Lost is a Mind Screw, or else this either isn't a trope or Lost isn't a show. You decide which. Like Lost does. Some examples from the show include its dream sequences and some particularly odd bits surrounding a cabin. One trippy episode was even set to be directed by Darren Aronofsky.
  • Invoked in an episode of Mock the Week by Frankie Boyle.
    Frankie: You've each been selected for this mission because you're unknown to the enemy and you each have a special skill. Professor Hawking, John Leslie, Phil Neville, the Wu-Tang Clan, Usher, the Sugar Puffs Monster and Daniel Day-Lewis! Welcome to Operation Mind-Fuck!
  • Quite a few Monty Python's Flying Circus sketches, and all the Deranged Animations. Not due to an over-reliance on symbolism, but rather ignoring everything except the Rule of Funny.
    • "Tonight, on It's the Mind, we examine the strange phenomenon of Déjà vu..."
      • ... lemon curry?
      • "Good lord. I'm on film! How did that happen?"
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 has always had No Fourth Wall. But once the cast appeared on CBS Morning to talk about the new Godzilla movie. Mike, Tom, and Crow talked about their roles on the show, implying all the Bots on the show appear as themsleves. But next Bill and Kevin come out and talk about their roles on the show. So the Bots know they're on a show, but not that they're puppets?
  • Primeval can get like this when multiple time anomalies are open to different time periods at once.
    • A particularly poignant example in the original series is the ending of Season 1. The remains of the camp, skeleton, and camera discovered in Episode 1 were left there in the season finale, including Cutter taking the exact pictures he saw on the camera in Season 1. When he returns to the present day in the season finale, despite having created his own past, he's also altered the timeline so that one very specific person has a different name and identity, the anomaly team has moved out of the Home Office and the ARC has been created, and Abby lives in a different flat. The reason is never explained.
    • The season finale of Primeval: New World gets fairly mind-screwy as well, what with us not being sure how much is real and how much was hallucinated, where the Albertosaurus came from and what its own personal timeline even was, what parts were a stable time loop and what created alternate timelines, and how this all ties in with the ARC.
  • The Prisoner (1967) ended with such a colossal mind screw that fans reputedly harassed series star Patrick McGoohan for months demanding his explanation of the series. The remake's website seems to be gleefully continuing this tradition.
  • Reichenbach Falls. A BBC Four one-off drama based on an idea by Ian Rankin. DCI Jim Buchan is an Edinburgh policeman whose personality and cases are similar to those of Rankin's Inspector Rebus (the Rebus novels sometimes tend towards mildly Mind Screwy in any case). He resents his former friend Jack Harvey (a pen-name used by Rankin) who is a famous crime novelist and occasionally argues with the ghost of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (hence the title). He gradually becomes aware that he's a fictional character created by Harvey, and the author is planning to Drop A Bridge On Him (again, hence the title). He, therefore, decides, at the launch of Harvey's new book, that he's going to kill the author first. After that, it gets weird.
  • Russian Doll dips its feet into this regularly, especially in the last few episodes where things start disappearing and the deaths become much more surreal, such as Nadia coughing up a glass shard while a younger version of herself stands directly in front of her, spouting cryptic messages.
  • Sherlock: "The Abominable Bride" starts with "Previously on… Sherlock... wait, no, what if our Sherlock Holmes existed at the time Sherlock Homes did in the original stories?" Then it skips to this Victorian version and starts a story there, with nothing but some stray comments hinting that this isn't a straight-up alternative version with no continuity with the original modern-day series. But then, after a while, it returns to the modern era, and all of that is revealed to have been a kind of simulation the modern Holmes is running in his head to help him solve the analogous mystery he's currently facing. But then it's revealed that, according to the story set in the past, the modern-day story is also a projection happening in that Holmes's mind. In the end, both versions of the story seem to be given about equal weight, so there are two intertwined stories that are an unusual version of Mutually Fictional... although the past story doesn't make quite as much sense because one question that Holmes has about the crime is left unanswered when those events break down and become dreamlike, interpretable only as part of the modern-day-centered story. Along the way, there are also other reality-breaking scenes like a scene in the present that turns out to be Only A Dream too. Still, this Mind Screw is mostly explained by the end of the movie, even if the answer is rather strange.
  • Stargate SG-1: "Forever in a Day" happens inside Daniel Jackson's head. His wife (Sha're) is sending him a message by slightly twisting Amonets's (the Goa'uld who has take her host) usage of her kara kesh (torture device). The episode starts Sha're 'telling' Daniel Teal'c was going to kill her, and then a few seconds later (which seems like months to Daniel) Teal'c actually kills her. Having already gotten over it (with help from Sha're) Daniel manages to begin to forgive Teal'c almost instantly. He admits Teal'c did the right thing, which he now knows Sha're would have asked Teal'c to do.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • The episodes "Far Beyond the Stars" and "Shadows and Symbols" heavily imply that the events of the entire series may have simply been the imaginings of a mentally unstable African-American pulp-fiction writer in the 1950s. "Shadows and Symbols" does, however, state that at least the latter one was a "false vision" the Pah-Wraiths attempted to use to trick Sisko. It has been said in the series companion book that there was discussion for the final scene of the final episode to be Benny Russell holding the series script standing in a studio lot (presumably at Paramount)... either implying that all of Star Trek is All Just a Dream in-universe... or implying that all of Star Trek is a real vision of the future sent by the Prophets (holy...!).
    • One early draft of "Little Green Men" (in which Quark goes back in time and causes the 1940s Roswell incident) featured a quick segment of a Lt. Roddenberry being inspired by the episode events to write a science fiction story...
    • Another Deep Space Nine episode that does this is "Rapture." Because they never really explain whether the visions were actually an important message from the Prophets, and Sisko would have been fine without the surgery, or if they really were hallucinations from the accident and the surgery was necessary.
  • Elsewhere in the Trek franchise, Next Generation, Voyager, and Enterprise had their share of these episodes — and most can be traced back to one inveterate Mind Screwer. Brannon Braga absolutely loves stories like this and Schrödinger's Butterfly in particular. The results are mixed: Braga's Mind Screws include some of the best and worst episodes of these shows.
    • One of the greatest Mind Screws in TNG is the episode "Remember Me". To put it simply:
      Dr. Crusher: Here's a question you shouldn't be able to answer. What is the nature of the universe?
      Computer: The universe is a spheroid region 705 meters in diameter.
    • "Frame of Mind" is a Mind Screw for Commander Riker, up until the very end.
    • "Parallels" is this way for the first three acts or so, until it's proven that Worf is shifting through increasingly divergent parallel universes.
    • "Genesis" is also this, up until The Reveal (The crew is de-evolving). Practically everyone on the ship is behaving very strangely, especially Worf (he tears up his bedding for no apparent reason, takes a chunk out of Troi's cheek with his teeth and spits acid in Dr. Crusher's face), and no one knows why.
  • St. Elsewhere: The Tommy Westphall Universe hypothesis. It is best just to ignore it, it gets even deeper when you consider the ending to Newhart, its connection to The Bob Newhart Show and that it crossed over directly with St. Elsewhere.
  • Even Supernatural got in on the act:
    • Dean's fantasy world in "What Is And What Should Never Be". Would that sweet little 4-year-old in the pilot have turned out to be a jerkass if it wasn't for emotional abuse, neglect, a tight leash, and a massive martyr complex or does he just think that little of himself? Does he think that Sam's a wuss, Mary's perfect and his soulmate is death or were they all part of him? But whatever way you look at it, it's still a profoundly disturbing tearjerker that sets up the downward spiral of events of the finale nicely.
    • They did it again with "Mystery Spot". Was it all just a dream? Did Dean actually die and go to hell? The people that were killed (by Sam and the Trickster), do they remain dead? And the fact that Dean's "We can't be martyrs anymore" speech (which has so many things wrong with it that I don't know where to begin) in No Rest For The Wicked is almost an exact copy of the Trickster's speech just carries the Mind Screw further.
    • Also, "The French Mistake". It involves Jensen playing Dean playing Jensen playing Dean, and Jared playing Sam playing Jared playing Sam. Who also ends up with Ruby, except that it's not Ruby, it's her actress... Yeah. Mind Screw.
    • And then there's "The Monster At the End of This Book" (S04, E18) when Sam and Dean come into contact with the Supernatural book series...
      Dean: I'm sitting in a laundromat, reading about myself, sitting in a laundromat, reading about myself. My head hurts.
  • Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger is a very strange parody of the Super Sentai series in a whole, complete with lampshading and direct references. How does this mindscrew begin? At the very end of the first episode, when the Akibarangers' professor mentor tells them that the battle they just had was just a battle in an imaginary world, or to put it short: All Just a Dream. Though you think it'd be just that simple, right? Well, not really. Soon, the Big Bad manages to step into the real world, and after that, the Akibarangers can also break into the real world. Then The Hero manages to become a Reality Warper and transform into an Akibaranger without having to step into the delusional world. Then after he gets replaced by The Ace, he manages to find out that they exist inside a TV show and that his replacement, along with some other changes, were a result of Executive Meddling.
    • Season 2 ups the ante. Season 1 ends with the show canceled, which means when the executive producer steps in and personally covers the camera, that should be the end of their whole existence. Yet... here comes Season 2, with a recap of Season 1 that is only about 75% accurate, and what happens in the Delusion World affects what happens in the real world. Oh, you know how back in Season 1, during the battle that first tore open an entrance to the real world, there were actually two rifts? Yeah, it turns out the rift Marushina didn't step through is important. Very important. In the interest of avoiding massive spoilers and a more massive Wall of Text, let's just say the Mind Screw-itude will be doubled.
  • Too Many Cooks — what starts out as a parody of family sitcoms becomes a work com, a cop show, a G.I. Joe pastiche, and a Dallas pastiche, all of which is revealed to center on a reality-distorting cannibalistic serial killer on the run from space police... and then it starts to get weird.
  • Once upon a time (June the 11th, 1934, to be more precise) in Sweden, a child was born. This wasn't especially uncommon in itself, but it just so happened that this child was named Staffan Westerberg... One day, when he was 41 years, 2 months and 22 days old, (in other words, it was now September the 1st, 1975) Staffan became the producer and show host of what was (supposedly) a children's show, Vilse i Pannkakan, Lost in the Pancake. This show featured finger puppets that Staffan played with, all of them with Meaningful Names, like the titular main character, Lost. It also included, amongst many other things, a Corrupt Corporate Executive potato, a Hobo, a firefighter who gets it together with a motorized angel and, naturally, a moose; all living on the titular pancake. Oh, and the show was actually An Aesop about society and politics... These days, Staffan Westerberg is singlehandedly blamed for the psychological problems of the entire 70's generation.
  • "Failed pilot" Virtuality, which can only be described as 2001: A Space Odyssey meets Serial Experiments Lain meets Big Brother IN SPACE (with some Ghost in the Shell and eXistenZ for flavor) from the producers of Battlestar Galactica. The Mind Screwiness is made worse by the fact that it's an unfinished pilot. Breaking it down:
    • 2001: The crew is trapped on a very long journey with a possibly unreliable AI. Hypersleep is averted because the ship is propelled through space by carefully exploding small nukes, which everyone needs to be awake for.
    • Brother: In order to help with funding (I think, I missed the first 30 mins), the ship has become a Big Brother-style house, complete with Confession Cam booth.
    • Lain: When the captain is killed by an inexplicably malfunctioning airlock, a crew member mysteriously finds his VR goggles in her quarters. She goes into his last simulation, and discovers that the captain's consciousness may have survived.
    • Ghost: One of the crew members is raped while inside her own simulation, and it appears that another crew member knows the assailant, a program(?) posing as a gynecologist. However, why would they need a simulation of a gynecologist?
    • eXistenz: The captain flexes his hand as though he's still in a simulation when the VR developer/psychologist asks him if he's certain of reality, and, again, why would they need a simulation of a gynecologist?
      • To answer the question about the simulation of a gynecologist, Alice is using her VR module to imagine the pregnancy she's not allowed to have being aboard the ship. Maybe. We conspicuously never see her break character or take off the module. And there are a lot of unnecessary details: magazines, waiting room, that make her seem less in control of the program. In essence, it's a question that may never be answered.
  • We Are Klang is generally surreal, but balanced with 'realistic' comedy. Alien, the last episode of series one, however, is essentially a sci-fi/fantasy hybrid and ends on a borderline Gainax Ending.
  • In the introduction for the "WrestleMania Roundtable" of The Wrestling Kennection, Zack and Ken weren't sure what to expect for the opening video. However, given their slack-jawed expressions, they certainly were not expecting this.