Flashback Twist

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"Yeah, I remember... I was deep in the Ardennes, trying to find Charlemagne. He had been kidnapped by an insane computer."
The Doctor, Doctor Who, "The Unicorn and the Wasp"

A Flash Back is thrown to by a piece of dialogue that gives you the impression you'll know what the story is, but then produces a comic effect by surprising you.

May include an Unreliable Voiceover. Related to Self-Serving Memory.

Examples of Flashback Twist include:

Anime & Manga

  • In Higurashi no Naku Koro ni's Atonement Chapter, Tsumihoroboshi-hen, this happens to Keiichi. It is revealed that in the Abducted by Demons Arc (Onikakushi-hen) that Rena was just trying to help Keiichi, and that Mion was just playing with him the whole time (the needle in the ohagi was Tabasco sauce). The syringe is also revealed to be a marker; They were going to marker his shirt like they did to Tomitake before he left, due to fact he was going to Irie for treatment for his level of Hinamizawa Syndrome. However, this ended in a tragic end for all three teenagers. Not played for laughs.
    • Higurashi is full of this, another example is the Eye opening Arc (Meakashi-hen) that in the Cotton Drifting arc (Watanagashi-hen) the culprit wasn't Mion who had gone insane. Instead it was Shion, her twin sister. The cause of the madness was the same (Keiichi giving the doll to Rena) but the reason was totally different. The end is also one of these as Keiichi, as sees one of them suddenly going up at his bed even if both of the twins are supposed to be dead. It is later revealed that he hallucinated all of this and died by a heart attack.
    • This can also be seen in the Massacre Arc (Minagoroshi-hen). In the Curse killing arc (Tatarigoroshi-hen), none of the murders were by Keiichi's wishes. Instead they were just coincidences with the real murderer's acts, Also Satoko's uncle died when Keiichi killed him. Satoko had just gone crazy and thought the uncle was still alive. Looking back, it seems like the way Higurashi is built with Questions and Answer arcs allowed a lot of this, but that's probably one of the things that makes it so great.
  • In episode 9 of Baccano!, a flashback to the Sacrificial Lamb's murder reveals that he wasn't killed at all. Instead, he kicked the gun out of his assailant's hand and shot him. The corpse left behind was actually that of another mole that the Sacrificial Lamb tortured and killed shortly afterwards. Also, said not-so-Sacrificial Lamb is actually an assassin -- the same one Luck called for in the first episode -- and the Rail Tracer that's been picking off various mooks since episode 3.

Live Action TV

  • Tucker (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "The Prom") claiming he has a good reason to want to ruin the prom, which the flashback reveals to be the most innocuous rejection ever.
    • Also in the episode "Fool for Love", when Spike says that he's always been "bad"... and then immediately flashes back to showing him as a prissy Victorian-era wannabie poet.
  • Many of the flashbacks on Lost have a twist, but for shock value rather than comic effect. In particular, "Confidence Man" seemed to give away its ending at the 10-minute mark, but the ending was quite different.
  • How I Met Your Mother: Happens quite often due to the format of the show, but a more recent example has Ted recalling stories of Marshall's co-worker Jenkins, imagining Jenkins as a man, before it is revealed that Jenkins is actually a woman.
  • Ugly Betty:

Amanda: We met at the Jill Sander party last night. He was totally worshiping me.
[flashback to him ignoring her and then return to present]
Amanda: I mean I get it because I was the hottest girl there, but then there was this skank who was totally trying to horn in and I was as nice as I can be.
[return to flashback]
Amanda: [shoving the girl to the floor] Out of the way, skank!

  • Doctor Who, "The Unicorn and the Wasp": As each of the party guests says what they were doing at the time of the murder, their flashbacks show them doing something different (for example, that's not tea Lady Eddison is drinking...). A Genre Savvy viewer can spot the murderer as the one person whose flashback doesn't show him doing something suspicious.
    • During the same sequence, one of the characters has a flashback inside the flashback ... which the Doctor tells him to stop doing.
    • Earlier in "The Runaway Bride" Donna says it was Lance who asked to marry her, and that he was insistent. That's not exactly what happened...
  • Used extensively in Arrested Development, where characters will say what they thought happened and then the deadpan narrator will explain over a clip what ACTUALLY happened.

Lucille: We had a fight. Who knows what it was about?
Narrator: I do.

  • In a season four Due South episode, Fraser is remembering hunting with an old mentor, who is trying to convince him not to shoot a wild animal. What with the way Fraser is portrayed in the series, it comes as a real surprise when he shoots the animal anyway.
  • The Grenada Sherlock Holmes series pulled this off between The Final Problem and The Empty House. In the former, Watson reads Holmes' note, and on screen we see Holmes and Moriarty battle, and then both fall off Reichenbach Falls to their deaths. Naturally, it's all in Watson's imagination, and when Holmes recaps the fight in the latter episode we see that Holmes baristu'd Moriarty off the cliff. Of course, this isn't a surprise of any sort to those who have read the original stories.


  • Sequential Art Twice. Art asks Scarlet if the washing machine broke. Kat asks Scarlet if anyone messed with the Christmas lights.
  • In Amy Kim Ganter's short comic I'm Watching You, the story begins with the protagonist burying two bodies. She then flashes back to the weeks before, while she was in school and she realized that one of her classmates was stalking her. Terrified and wanting him to leave her alone, she confronts him one day... and the twist is that he was never stalking her. Our protagonist herself is the stalker, obsessed with a random classmate and has deluded herself into thinking he's stalking her back. She kills him and his girlfriend, burying the bodies in the woods and later seeing them staring at her through her window at night. Needless to say, not played for laughs.

Western Animation

  • Constantly in Family Guy. In one episode, Peter turns down a coupon offered by a man in a chicken suit, saying, "Sorry. I don't accept coupons from giant chickens. Not since that last time..." And flashes back to an actual giant chicken that gave Peter a coupon that turned out to be expired. Peter's reaction to this was an extensive chase and fight scene.
    • Brian mentions the Biblical parable of Abraham being told to kill Issac; cue President Lincoln gunning down the bartender from The Love Boat.
    • Lois tells new-neighbor Bonnie that someone lost an "eye" at Bingo last week. Cut to a man losing the I-27 ball. Then putting out his eye on the corner of table when he goes to retrieve it.
    • Family Guy has started hanging lampshades on their use (and arguably, overuse) of Manatee Gags. In one episode, following one of their usual references, "Haven't felt this [emotion] since [thing we're about to see]," there isn't a cutaway. Stewie looks around and asks, "What? Nothing? Not cutting away? Fine." And then continues from there.
    • Another major lampshade occurs in "Spies Reminiscent of Us" where Stewie gets beaten up and tries to start a Cutaway Gag before blacking out: "This is worse than that time...(fades into gibberish)". Cut to the flashback, which is just Stewie in front of a white background as he admits that he doesn't know what to do here because he couldn't understand the lead-in.
  • In SpongeBob SquarePants Mr. Krabs recalls the first time Plankton tried to take the Krabby Patty formula, which was just him asking for it.
  • Inverted in The Simpsons—in the episode "Day of the Jackanapes", Krusty is showing clips from his career as part of a retrospective:

Krusty: And now, a special treat. My TV debut on "The Milk of Magnesia Summer Cavalcade." Let's watch.
(clip shows a young Krusty "flying" across a stage suspended from a harness)
Young Krusty: Look at me! I'm Kaputnick, the Russian satellite! (the harness tightens up around his groin) Agh! Oh, the Bolshoi's doing the nutcracker in my pants!
(the audience gasps)
Krusty: Back then, you couldn't say "pants" on TV. I was banned for ten years.


Cybernetic Ghost: You remember that Christmas, don't you?
Carl: No, I... You know, I remember eatin' carpet. Not so much the lasers and the robots, though.

  • In an episode of King of the Hill, Lucky tells the story of how his grandfather found a walnut tree stump in the 1920s. While he says about the grandfather was on a church picnic, the Flashback Cut shows that he was actually trying to escape from prison (what Lucky calls "going to meet his maker" is also shown to be his execution by electric chair). Unlike most instances of this trope, however, it's implied that Lucky isn't deliberately lying but rather telling the story as he heard it.
  • An episode of Billy and Mandy has several characters bring up a disastrous picnic where Bigfoot jumped out of the bushes and ran off with Billy, all of them having the exact same flashback. When Billy's dad mentions the incident, the flashback instead shows him Behind the Black in the bushes donning a Bigfoot costume before leaping off-screen as we hear the sounds from the original flashback. When the flashback ends, he quickly tries to cover his tracks.