Expansion Pack Past

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Adam: Does this remind you of when you used to count money for the mob?

Jamie: I was a hitman. I wasn't the money counter.

Sasako: I thought you told me the other day that you quit your job at the construction company to open up the café.
Dramatic music stops. Beat

Polar Bear: Ah... There's that version, too.

Sometimes, characters just have over-complicated origins. They may start off reasonable, but slowly and surely, different writers swoop in and reveal more and more of their past via Flash Back until it's a confusing muddle of nonsense and clutter.

This tends to happen to characters with a Mysterious Past. The writers explain a bit, but not all of it, so they can milk the Mysterious Past some more. Unfortunately, they then repeat this trick so often that there's practically no room left for even more mysterious-pastness. It's unclear that the character ever had time to have a mysterious past with all the revelations we've already seen; and it's ironic that, for all their supposed mystery, these characters tend to have more backstory than any of the other characters.

In extreme cases, when the bits of the backstory simply cannot be chained together, we get a Multiple Choice Past.

Compare Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?. Briefer Than They Think is a related idea on a much larger scale.

Examples of Expansion Pack Past include:


Anime & Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Parodied with Ginji in Magical Project S, who is often alluded to having done tons of improbable things and has a wallet full of licenses to prove it.
  • In Naruto, there were no less than three separate flashbacks for Sasuke to the night Itachi massacred the Uchiha clan. The last one feels tacked on; it would have painted Itachi in a completely different light had it been included in the first place, but Sasuke claimed that he had simply tried to forget those specific memories.
    • Thought it does answer the continuity error of why Sasuke's Sharingan was activated by fighting Haku and not Tsukuyomi (namely that it was, he just didn't realize it for several years).
  • Mahou Sensei Negima seems to do this with Asuna after the Genre Shift made the story much more dramatic, although there are a few hints in the earlier chapters that imply it was planned all along. To wit: Negi was not an Inept Mage when he accidentally erased Asuna's clothes. Her Anti-Magic aura screwed up the spell.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, the viewer gradually learns more and more details about what happened when the Elric brothers tried to revive their mother with alchemy, especially what's behind the Door of Truth. The Ishbal Rebellion receives this treatment to some degree.
  • Most incarnations of Osamu Tezuka's Shunsaku Ban. Amusingly, he looks a bit like Jamie Hyneman.
  • Polar Bear from Polar Bear's Cafe tells a touching story about his reasons for opening the cafe, and then Sasako brings up that he had told her a completely different version of events. He then shrugs and says both versions work. Penguin thinks he's making it all up.


Comics[edit | hide]

  • The most famous example of this trope is Wolverine, from X-Men: He's a soldier, mutant, science experiment, ninja, assassin, Superhero, miner, aristocrat's son, biker with amnesia.
    • Extreme example is World War II, where Wolverine starred in different battles, spanning from France, to North Africa, to Russia, to Italy... all the while spending months being tortured and killed over and over in a concentration camp just to mess with some Nazi's head. Somehow during this period, he managed to also spend the key war years in Japan being trained as a samurai, getting a Japanese wife, and having a son. And you thought that being in X-Force, X-Men and New Avengers, while also going on his solo adventures, was an incredible accomplishment...
  • Elisa Cameron, the eponymous hero of the comic book Ghost, has an incredibly convoluted backstory that fits into this trope, although it's all explained, more or less, by the end of the series.
    • The second series, that is, after they canceled the writer of the first 36 shaggy-dog issues & started a new volume at #1. The blinding rate of actual revelations in the second series contrasts with the three-year tease of the first series.
  • Deadpool, in addition to having a legitimate Expansion Pack Past, also pokes fun at the idea. Among his time with Weapon X, Flirtations with Death (literally), and time with the X-Men, he's done all sorts of wacky oddjobs. This includes being trained as a Sumo Wrestler (a clear parody of Wolverine's samurai training).
  • Scrooge McDuck was neck deep in this until Don Rosa came along and made everything fit together in a Crowning Moment of Arc Welding.
  • Also from the X-Men, Nightcrawler bears mention. Not only do we learn new things about his background every other week, they blatantly contradict each other. Circus performer with freakish appearance but cheerful outlook. Check. Raised by a Roma witch Margoli Szardos. Check. Girlfriend turns out to be adopted sister and yet they still date. Um...ok. Is revealed to be a devout Catholic. Not impossible, but highly unlikely. Real mother turns out to be Mystique, who threw him over the edge of a waterfall to escape persuers. Not only does that not vibe with the earlier story of Margoli finding him with his dead mother, but she had no way of knowing his father's surname was Wagner. Oh, and his father's an ancient demon. But we don't like to talk about that.
  • When you see this in the X-Men, consider a sign of authorial affection for the character. Ororo/Storm's backstory was pretty trippy as well, even before they inserted T'Challa in it.
  • Batman in all of his versions (but mainly the comics) has this for the time between the death of his parents (and sometimes even before) and the first time he put on the cape and cowl.
    • Especially concerning the events leading up the fateful day they went out to see Zorro. Grant Morrison has it so Bruce's dad decided to have a family day to cheer Bruce up because the kid escaped being decapitated by an immortal, Satan-worshipping school teacher. No, really.
    • Speaking of Bats, The Joker enjoys the fact his past is, to him contradictory and muddled.
  • Captain America (comics)'s war service between 1940 (yes, his Nazi-punching days predate the formal entry of the USA in the war) and 1945. He's probably had more adventures in World War II than there were days in the war; there's a tendency for stories involving him to feature a one or two-page flashback to some World War II event to contrast with whatever's happening in the present. Famous World War II events (D-Day, for example), have been retold frequently with conflicting information about what he was doing then.
    • Bucky has this even more, since he ended up as a brainwashed Soviet assassin that was kept on ice when not on assignment.
  • Elf Quest did this for Bearclaw, Mantricker and Kahvi. Although most of Bearclaw's stories are pretty solid, Mantricker's timeline is broken beyond all help - and for the family trees to still make sense, some of the later writers literally had to have Kahvi fall into a magical plot hole for a few thousand years.


Film[edit | hide]

  • Lampshaded in MacGruber. When MacGruber is introduced, we are told of his many tours of duty in pretty much every branch of the military. Many would be impossible, because they occur at the same time or the war was simply too short to accommodate all of them. MacGruber would have to be a hundred-year-old man with a time machine to squeeze them all in.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • In Artemis Fowl, Domovoi Butler has been hinted to have had an. . . interesting job history before taking up as Artemis's bodyguard.
  • Nathan Brazil, the guardian of the Well of Souls from Jack Chalker's Well World saga. Sort of inevitable considering he's rebooted the universe (and subsequently relived the whole course of all human history) at least five times. (Or so he says, he's also an Unreliable Narrator.)
  • In the Sword of Truth series, Sister Nicci originally had little background besides being one of the Sisters of the Light and secretly being aligned with the Keeper of the Underworld. However, starting in Faith of the Fallen, her complex past is delved into during chapters from her point of view.
  • Faolan from Juliet Marillier's Bridei Chronicles. In the first book, he's a spy and bodyguard with a Mysterious Past. In the second and third books, we find out that he started out as a bard in Ireland, then became an assassin, then was in prison for awhile, then somehow made his way to Scotland and made a career there. Despite all that, he's still in his 20s. There doesn't seem to have been time for him to actually do everything he's supposed to have done, particularly given the time it must have taken for a member of an enemy tribe to win the trust of the Priteni king.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Justified with Spike, since he's a centuries-old vampire, but Giles is hinted at being Jack the Ripper, and so on.
  • Most of the characters in Lost are like that now. For example, Locke's time in a hippie commune was never mentioned before or since in the series. This is being somewhat fixed in the fourth season by giving the main characters Flash Forwards instead of Flash Backs.
  • Quantum Leap is rife with this.
    • Al has led a storied life before becoming the main character's Holographic Sidekick. He ran away from home to join the Circus, traveled with a Pool master, boxed semi-pro, flew for the Navy in Vietnam, was a POW, was the subject of a Pulitzer Prize photo, attended MIT, marched in the 60s, became an Astronaut, was promoted to Rear Admiral, has been married 5 times (between countless liaisons), was acquitted of murder, speaks Italian, and is a great cook.
    • Sam, on the other hand, just studied to an unholy degree. He speaks 7 languages, has 7 doctorates (including his MD), has a Nobel Prize, played piano at Carnegie Hall, sings, dances, has a photographic memory, went to MIT at 15, won the big game in high school (apparently at 14), grew up on a farm, Studied Tae Kwon Do, invented a time machine, and is also a good cook.
      • He also forgets some of the things that he learns during the leap and from his own life including that he has a daughter that is working at project Quantum Leap that was born when he leaped into the body of a Souther man while he and his fiancée were uh, imitating rabbits and only Al knows this after the leap. Not that it matters afterward...
    • Supposedly, a number of these are the result of Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory - every time Sam leaps, he changes his own past as well as whatever he changes in-leap.
  • Howard Moon is supposed to be like this in the Crack Fox episode of "The Mighty Boosh".
  • And then there was "Bon Chance Louie", proprietor of the Gold Monkey Bar in Tales of the Gold Monkey, who apparently had been everywhere and done everything—including being part of Mallory's expedition, in his last, unsuccessful, attempt to climb Mt. Everest, and nearly being guillotined.
  • Phoebe from Friends often makes passing allusions to unusual jobs or situations she was involved in before the series started, although she does have an ordinary backstory as well.
    • And as she's a firm believer in reincarnation, there was at least one flashback scene to Phoebe in a previous life. Whether this is supposed to be purely imaginary is, one supposes, left to the viewer.
  • Wilson W. Wilson, on Home Improvement, speaks multiple languages, has been to dozens of countries, has studied several esoteric religions and philosophies, and engages in such myriad hobbies as wine-tasting, ant farming, and fire walking.
    • And he 'never thought it would come in handy, then he moved next to Tim'
  • Power Rangers really gropes when it tries to come up with what Rangers returning for team-up episodes have been doing since they were last seen. Being a member of the original team, after fifteen years on and off of the screen, Tommy Oliver has been a martial artist, a football player, a race car driver, a paleontologist, a Mad Scientist (seriously!), a high school science teacher, and highly involved in Ranger-ness behind the scenes while between power sources, having made contact with every team even if they were based in space, just visiting from a lot more than Twenty Minutes Into the Future, etc. If there's anything "Dr. O" has not been, he will have by the next anniversary teamup to bring him back.
  • Shawn Spencer of Psych travelled a lot and had 57 jobs prior to opening the titular private detective agency.
  • Slowly revealing the history of the Doctor and his people from Doctor Who in bits and pieces over multiple decades and production teams has led to a less than clear vision of his past. It gets even worse when you bring the Expanded Universe into it. Of course, this sort of thing is pretty much an occupational hazard once you make it past 500. Which he has. And of course there's rule number 1: the Doctor lies.
  • Jack Harkness from Torchwood started that series with his backstory from Doctor Who as a Time Agency agent who became a time-traveling con man after two years' worth of memories were swiped, and then was made immortal, and then travelled back in time, overshot his destination, and got stuck on The Slow Path, which forced him to live through WWII twice - which became three times by the end of the first series of Torchwood. It also doesn't help that there was a Flash Back to Jack's time as a teenager in which we learn valuable things, but not his real name.
  • MacGyver has a college degree (in what isn't specified), comprehensive knowledge of mechanics, physics, chemistry, and any other specialty required by a given plot, worked as a deck hand on a tramp steamer, was a bomb disposal expert for the Special Forces in Vietnam, was a professional racing car driver, played Olympic-calibre ice hockey but had a Tragic Accident that kept him out of the Olympics, worked as an apprentice and assistant to a noted archaeologist (played by Brian Blessed), trained as a pilot, worked as a backwoodsman in the Rockies, a lumberjack and a taxi driver, all before becoming a secret agent. Adding to the confusion, the first and second seasons gave two incompatible versions of his initial meeting with Pete Thornton. Furthermore, the final episode reveals he has a long-lost son. It sort of nullifies his credibility when they reveal him to have had insufficiently-protected premarital sex in college, although given the number of ex-girlfriends in the show and the time period, possibly he got off easy by only having one illegitimate child. Evidently, a condom made out of a drinking straw, six paper clips and a Twinkie wasn't the best idea after all.
  • This gets really excessive for the title character in the second season of Angel. While some of the things are understandable in that he has been a vampire for 200 years, and has had a soul for a hundred years, sometimes you wonder exactly what is consistent with his character. The best example is the fourth season, Orpheus, which had a type of It's a Wonderful Life that actually explained some of what was going through his mind.
  • The "somewhat eponymous" main character of New Amsterdam, as a consequence of his immortality. In the last 400 years he's been a cop, a lawyer, a soldier, a sailor, a hobo, a conman, a carriage rider, etc.
  • Before meeting Hercules, Xena: Warrior Princess has been an Amazon, Valkyrie, mother, student of a Chinese mystic (in China, no less), lover of Caesar, and warlord. She has travelled most of the known world, including Scandinavia, northern Africa, and all of Asia. It's a wonder she never found herself in the New World.
    • Nevermind that both her show and Herc's show that it spun off from were supposed to take place in ancient Greece, long before the time of even Alexander the Great (who according to legend was a descendant of Hercules), let alone Julius Caesar.
  • Law and Order: Criminal Intent: Robert Goren knows everything.
    • To be fair, Goren's background is fairly clear (grew up in NYC, served the Army CID, doing tours in Germany and South Korea, joined the NYPD afterwards). He just likes to read. A lot. Also, any time he doesn't know something, he inevitably has a friend who does.
  • In Heroes, they've somehow managed to shoehorn in a third dark past for Angela, who seems to switch secret conspiracies every few years. Said dark past also involves Chandra Suresh, someone who positively couldn't be part of any of these conspiracies (he wasn't even sure evolved abilities existed until he was killed by someone with powers) but apparently now was part of one all along.
    • Each HRG focused episode adds a new element to his past to the point they've created an Expansion Pack Past for the events of Season 1.
  • This trope is the entire premise behind the title character of The Pretender.
  • Greek has this in all of Cappie's majors (and one-time photography minor). Of course, he could be lying, but that's part of Cappie's mystery (just like his name...)
  • Highlander: Duncan MacLeod has done just about everything imaginable, and lived in (or at least visited) virtually every culture on Earth, in the course of flashbacks doled out throughout the series. Justified to some extent due to the fact that he's over 400 years old.
    • Several of the other characters have similarly varied pasts, which is also justified because they're usually even older than MacLeod. For example, his drinking buddy Hugh Fitzcairn is 800 years old, his on-and-off girlfriend Amanda is nearly 1200, and Methos is so old that even most immortals think he's a myth; he says his earliest memories date back to 5500 years ago, but he was already an adult and had already experienced his first death (activating his immortality) before that point.
  • Larry, Darryl, and Darryl from Newhart had an extremely packed past.
  • Despite being an utter failure at almost 40, Johnny Drama on Entourage has a story about anyone and everyone in show business, just because he's been around so long. Oddly, his own brother and best friends have never heard most of these stories before.
  • Scott Sherwood of Remember WENN had one of these.
  • Hilda, Zelda, and cat Salem of Sabrina the Teenage Witch are centuries-old witches who have apparently screwed every historically famous person ever and were everywhere for everything that has ever happened in history. Zelda dated Columbus. Hilda dated Shakespeare and Mercury, the Roman messenger God. Also, Salem totally coined the phrase "let me have liberty or let me have death." Also, in one episode Sabrina mentions that her Aunt Irma didn't like some guy named Ben so she turned him into the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament commonly known as "Big Ben".
  • Kenneth from Thirty Rock has been alive forever. We think.
  • Jamie and Adam from Myth Busters love playing with this. For an example, see the above quote.
  • Criminal Minds: In order for all of the things in Aaron Hotchner's past to be true, he had to have gone to college at 13. Seriously, the guy was an established prosecutor before joining the BAU and then working his way up to Lead Profiler, which he's been for about five years... yet he's barely 45.
  • Elim Garak from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fits this trope. Played with in that you can never know for sure if ANY of his supposed backstory is true, since That Liar Lies. His backstory was finally revealed in a thick book, A Stitch In Time, written by the actor who portrayed him.
    • Whenever the writers wanted Dax to have an unusual skill or know something unexpected, they just attributed it to one of her past hosts.
    • O'Brien ran into this twice. On TNG, where we was simply the most prominent recurring crewman, he was used a few times when they wanted a known character to add a personal touch to the plot, but didn't want to invest the main characters in it. His past fighting Cardassians with Captain Maxwell being the best example. Then when he moved to Deep Space 9 as a main character, expanding his past became a matter of necessity.
  • Nina van Horn is a former supermodel, who back in The Seventies ventured into acting and singing careers. She has also apparently slept with every male celebrity she's ever met, has converted back and forth to various religions, and has even been brainwashed several times into joining cults.
  • Happened to the character of Venus Flytrap on WKRP in Cincinnati. He got so many contradictory backstories (he was a former soldier, a former teacher, or else a very experienced DJ from New Orleans) that finally they had to make an episode to reconcile the inconsistencies, establishing that he and Andy had simply lied when they said he was an experienced DJ in the first episode.
  • During the first season of 24, Jack Bauer is shown to be a relatively competent (and unassuming) government agent with some special ops training. Subsequent seasons, Expanded Universe tie-in's and supplemental books show that he worked for the LAPD's SWAT Team, Delta Force and the CIA, worked extensive field cases that called on him to do extraordinary feats, indirectly worked for/met with five of the series' major villains (including two members of his own family) years before they would put their plans to overthrow the U.S. into motion, sold out several of his CTU colleagues when they accepted bribes, went undercover in several different gangs and cartels and rescued his wife from a Big Bad who planned to massacre her and several other civilians on live television.
  • Nessa from the British comedy Gavin and Stacey has a ridiculously impressive and convoluted past, revealed in brief reminiscences and anecdotes, although how much of this history is true is debatable - she could be making it all up for all we know. Many of the stories she recounts are of bizarre sexual liaisons with high-profile celebrities, made all the more hilarious by her dead-pan delivery of these lewd stories.
  • CSI likes this trope in all its versions. Enough past is revealed to flesh out a character, and them more and more is revealed as things progress. Listing all the stuff associated with the main characters could be a page in itself.
  • Many an episode of Remington Steele revolved around someone from the main character's past coming around to reveal another piece. He's known to have been a thief, con man, and boxer. Along the way, he picked up numerous skills and bits of information.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Pretty much every game-product or novel author who wrote about Ravenloft's Strahd von Zarovich in the 2E era has added something to his past. Partially justified, in that he's been a vampire for centuries; however, the number of subplots that got crammed into the last year or so of his mortal life is a bit over-the-top.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Shiro of Guild Wars literally has an expansion pack past. Introduced in Factions, we learn that he killed the emperor of Cantha because a fortune teller told him that the emperor would try to assassinate him. Nothing more is said about this in the game, and he shares the fate of every Big Bad. But in the next expansion, Nightfall, we learn that the fortune teller was a minion of Abaddon, tricking Shiro into killing the emperor.
  • Resident Evil seems to cram their lead characters with all sorts of talents for their young ages (everyone is in their 20s), which even leads into some Did Not Do the Research (such as saying Jill was a member of Delta Force when, in fact, they don't accept women).
  • Final Fantasy VII was originally released in Japan with Cloud's actual identity left ambiguous, with no explanation as to how Cloud, the boy from Nibelheim killed by Sephiroth in the Reactor, ended up becoming the same person as Cloud, a clone of Sephiroth with Zack's memories (or even whether he was the same person at all, leaving it up to the player and Cloud's deliberately ambiguous explanation to explain). The English version and the Japanese 'International' version added a hidden Easter Egg scene which explains how Cloud was taken from the Reactor, revived (in a coma), and experimented on by Hojo for five years, eventually saved by Zack.
  • The Boss in Metal Gear Solid 3 reveals her past, claiming she's never talked this much about herself before. But in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, both Strangelove and EVA reveal all kinds of juicy details about top-secret missions she'd been on in between (and in one case, instead of) the missions she'd told Snake about.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Etzel von Gerhart of Shadowhunter Peril isn't too great at keeping his former life as a mercenary and assassin under wraps.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Parody: Jim from Code Lyoko, as a Running Gag, often tangentially mentions being involved in all sorts of different odd jobs (space program test subject, special forces, something about submarines, something else about professional skateboarding, etc.) that he would "rather not talk about".
    • Except for the one time he'd love to talk about it, but he doesn't have the time.
    • Played straighter with Aelita, who was first described as an AI before it was revealed in Season 3 she was human, and the daughter of the creator of Lyoko. Too little is known of her past to make the rare flashbacks yet contradictory, though.
  • The Simpsons plays the trope for laughs with the numerous backstories assigned to Grandpa. Among other things, he spent 40 years as the night watchman at a cranberry silo, lived in the Statue of Liberty's head as a child, earned a commission as an under-aged officer in World War 1 (so under-aged that he still took naps and cried) worked as a strikebreaker during the Depression, fought in World War II as an Army infantryman in Europe, Piloted bombers in the Pacific, and so on. However, despite small hints that some of this is probably true, it's usually chalked up to his delusional senility.
    • Considering the fact that Abe's son has, in his 30-something years, gone into space; won a Grammy; invented grunge music; saved a town from nuclear annihilation, doomed a town to nuclear annihilation and visited Japan, Australia, Africa, China, etc., Grandpa Simpson could have done all that and more.
      • Let's not forget about two decades worth of experiences and adventures by Abe's 10, 8, and 1-year-old grandkids.
    • A more controversial example would be the episode "That 90's Show", which is half sliding timescale, and half Homer-being-aged-up-from-34-to-38. Set during the period of Marge and Homer's relationship after they had graduated high school but before Bart was conceived/their shotgun marriage, it mainly expanded upon Marge's background by revealing that she was a college graduate and that Homer spend his years after high school as a member of both an R&B boyband (based on Color Me Bad) and a grunge rock group (that was part Nirvana and part Bush), that made him a household name. The fact that logically this occurs after he became world famous for singing barbershop in 1986, as shown in a flashback episode which showed him as older and already married with kids, is probably responsible for most of this controversy.
    • Negative Continuity applies even to backstories.
  • Family Guy also plays this trope straight, and usually for laughs, mainly due to its fondness for using quick, random flashbacks for jokes. It doesn't just apply to all the random jobs and activities characters have performed in the past (namely Peter, Brian, and Stewie), but also to how some of the characters met each other. Multiple flashbacks have happened which show Peter meeting Lois, Peter meeting Brian, or Peter meeting Cleveland and/or Quagmire.
  • Duckman exaggerated this for a running gag, as the titular character's super-competent sidekick, Cornfed Pig, always appeared to have expertise and an extensive background in any task at hand. The trope was subverted to an extent when it was revealed that in all of Cornfed's many adventures, he had never successfully lost his virginity, and a Lampshade Hanging for Cornfed's ridiculous past was attempted, perhaps inadvertently, by showing at least three different flashback scenarios at different times in the series of how he came to be friends with Duckman.
  • Batman the Animated Series was a pretty good example of this trope, what with the extensive and varied training that Bruce had undergone in the past—everything from samurai training to magic lessons.
    • Exactly how Bruce planned it. Besides, you can do card tricks in Japan.
  • Roger the Alien from American Dad originally had a two-sentence origin: He was an alien being held at Area 51 who saved Stan's life. To repay him, Stan lets him live in his house. Over time, though Roger's past has been much more colorful—in one episode it was revealed that he's actually been on Earth for over sixty years (he was the alien who crashed in Roswell) and stories of his past exploits keep popping up.
    • Like how during the 70's, he was a millionaire music producer who "invented" disco by exploiting a Stable Time Loop, then lost everything when disco died.
    • Or that he's inexplicably an Olympic-class figure skater.
      • Supported by his time as a member of the Miracle on Ice 1980 Olympic hockey team.
    • Or that he's inadvertently responsible for the death of Biggie Smalls.
    • Or that he fought in the Vietnam War, against the Americans.
  • In Gargoyles, almost every episode featuring Demona delved further into her complex backstory. Justified because Demona, as a thousand-year-old immortal, has a ton of backstory to delve in to.