People love a good mystery, and will watch or read a story to the very end just to find out its answer. Sometimes though, for whatever reason, they don't like the answer. The fans then decide it would have been better to just leave the Plot Threads hanging, which would have given them mulch for their Epileptic Trees.
When a show has a premise that hinges on one or more big unanswered questions, fans feel there is an obligation that these questions be answered. Failure to do so leads to The Chris Carter Effect, which can turn off fans in frustration. Likewise, not answering enough questions in a Kudzu Plot alienates fans. The hard place to the above rock is that when a show, book, or movie answers a question and the answer isn't quite as epic, clever, or mind shattering as imagined. Maybe fan expectations are just too high, or the answer is honestly unsatisfying.
It should be noted that one factor in whether fans expect a mystery to be resolved or not is how prominent and important it was made originally. Lost made such a huge deal about the mystery of "the numbers" that expectations for the solution were raised to an incredible pitch. In the case of Sherlock Holmes' backstory, though, it is made abundantly clear that it's irrelevant and that no clarification is to be expected.
When it is never settled how things are happening, it's Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane.
Whether a show is better served by answering all, some, or none of the questions it raises varies by viewer. It's worth noting that this trope doesn't just focus on answers that are unsatisfying, but situations where an unanswered question actually helped the narrative. As you can expect, this is therefore a Subjective Trope.
- Paranoia Agent: The reveal of the true nature of Shonen Bat and Maromi, them both being a dog and a sketch from Tsukiko's childhood as well as aspects of a guilt-avoidence function she fabricated, may be considered anti-climactic. However, the show avoids this trope mostly by leaving many aspects vague or outright unexplained/concluded in order to increase suspense.
- The Halo Legends shorts quickly created a Broken Base due to their Broad Strokes regard to the canon, with later explanations only providing partial comfort. One such lose-lose situation was at the end of the The Package, where John fights an Elite in a sword fight referred to in the subtitles as "Thel". Those who read Halo: The Cole Protocol claimed this violated the canon, since the future Arbiter Thel 'Vadamee had not fought a Spartan until the later events of the novel. Others, however, liked the irony of 'Vadamee nearly killing John only to be his ally later in the series. But that was nullified with the updated release of Halo: The Fall Of Reach, which clarified that it was a different Elite fighting John named Thel 'Lodamee. Now the canon was fixed again, but the irony was lost because John lost to a random mook.
- This is the reason we don't know The Joker's origin in Batman. Some people take Alan Moore's story as the truth but at the end the Joker himself says that his memories of his origin change from day to day.
- The same is true of The Phantom Stranger - he has four mutually exclusive origins, all of which were published in the same issue of one series and given equal weight. One of these was also written by Moore.
- In the New52, The Phantom Stranger now has a definitive origin. YMMV on how good an idea this is, and on how good the actual origin is, for that matter.
- Invoked by Yorick in the Distant Finale of Y: The Last Man.
- There is an answer that's explained to the characters, but it's the "vaguely unsatisfying" one of the page quote (unsatisfying to both the readers and the characters) and the writers give it no more weight than any of the other explanations. Of the three reasons set up in the first issue (Yorick's ring, Dr. Mann's baby and 355 with the Amulet of Helene) none of them really lasts the course.
- Says Brian K. Vaughan on the subject:
I feel that there is a definitive explanation, but I like that people don't necessarily know what it is. In interviews we always said that we would tell people exactly what caused the plague. The thing was, we never said when we were going to tell. We weren't going to tell you when we were telling you, I should say. We might have told you in issue #3. There might have been something in the background that only a couple people caught. It might have been Dr. Mann's father's very detailed, scientific explanation. It might have been Alter's off-the-wall conspiracy theory. The real answer is somewhere in those 60 issues, but I prefer to let the reader decide which one they like rather than pushing it on them.
- 52, despite its ability to follow through its separate storylines being credited as one of the reasons for its success, left a few plot threads dangling, particularly with regards to Booster Gold and Skeets due to an Aborted Arc. The original storyline for Booster and Skeets involved them fixing the timeline of the universe, which had become broken in the recent Infinite Crisis. To set up this story Skeets had frequent memory errors, where events as they occurred were different (Sometimes drastically so) than as they had been recorded in the future. However, after these issues had been written the writers decided that this plot was too generic, and had been done too often before by other time traveling heroes, so they decided to go in a different direction and have an actual malevolent entity responsible for everything, including Skeets out-of-character actions. Eventually, the series revealed that Skeets had been infested and was being controlled by Mr. Mind, who planned to eat reality. However, though this covered why Skeets himself was evil and why several of Booster later actions were disasters, it never addressed why Skeets' earlier memory errors occurred in the first place, since they were before Mr. Mind escaped from his cocoon.
- Many viewers have complained about the resolution of the various character quirks and apparent non sequiturs in M. Night Shyamalan's Signs.
- Part of the point of Cloverfield is that it doesn't explain anything about the monster's origins. The associated ARG and manga do, slightly, but not necessarily for the better.
- A lot of Star Wars fans felt that the inclusion of midichlorians as a "cause" of the Force was an unsatisfying answer to a question no one asked. El Goonish Shive explains in in-depth here.
- Groundhog Day managed to avert the trope. There were ideas to give the Groundhog Day Loop an explanation - a curse put on the protagonist by a jilted lover - but it was decided that no explanation they could think of would be satisfactory.
- This is one the biggest reasons why the director's/final cut of Blade Runner is generally considered superior to the theatrical cut. The narration present in the latter removes all the ambiguity that makes the film a classic in the first place.
- One of the biggest complaints about Highlander II the Quickening was that it established a mythology that the immortals are aliens from a planet known as Zeist, which only serves to raise more questions. The re-edits establish them as wizards from Earth's distant past. Either way, the film is no longer considered canon with the rest of the series.
- Some people feel this way about the scene of Roy Neary inside the mothership from the special edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. One of these people is Steven Spielberg himself, who had never wanted to do that scene in the first place, but could only get the money to create a special edition if he included something which a marketing campaign could be hung on. Years later, Spielberg created a director's edition, which removed that scene, but kept the other special edition scenes.
Literature[edit | hide]
- Isobelle Carmody's The Gathering is a young adult horror with a brilliantly foreboding sense of tension, paranoia and discord running throughout the entire story, with the imagery of things in the shadows and the gruesome image of the abattoir and the sense that something very evil has poisoned the whole city and everyone in it by literally poisoning the earth and that only these kids can repair the damage. We know that something big and terrible is going to happen, and we've got everything, including the dark, dismal skies. So the ending including the explanation of what happened to the last group of people who tried, and where the entire school shows up in the abattoir in warpaint and we see the big bad being... rather less than imposing was a bit of a let down.
- Stephen King actually invokes this in-story at one point. In The Dark Tower's final volume, the story effectively ends when Roland enters the eponymous Tower. The narrator warns the reader that he will probably find the epilogue unsatisfying, as it explains what Roland finds there.
- This is the usual reason people hated the last book in The Pendragon Adventure. The whole existence of Solara seemed to come from nowhere and some important answers (Such as who Saint Dane made his promise to) were never answered.
- The Battlestar Galactica Reimagined finale reveals exactly what year it is and what's up with the "head people". Did we really need to know? (On the other hand, it did however leave the nature of Kara Thrace up to viewer interpretation.)
- One episode of Gargoyles had the mysterious character of Titania whisper something in Fox's ear - whatever it was, it caused the latter character to gasp in shock. Fans clambered for an answer, but Genre Savvy creator Greg Wiesman has said on his blog that although he knows exactly what was said, he is reluctant to share it, considering the interest is so high that the answer will inevitably come as a disappointment.
Video Games[edit | hide]
- This was one of the main criticisms of Condemned 2: Bloodshot; Doing in the Wizard didn't exactly help.
- Likewise, one of the many reasons Star Control 3 is considered Fanon Discontinuity by many is because it answered all the major cosmic mysteries brought up in Star Control 2, in an Info Dump that takes four YouTube videos to cover. And most of the answers are the very definition of Fridge Logic.
- The Guardian's true nature revealed in Ultima IX was rather underwhelming (after several games and almost 10 years of build-up), as well as somewhat inconsistent with the previously established story.
- One of the main complaints of Tales of Vesperia was how some of the plot threads were either given haphazard resolutions or dropped entirely. Most however, such as Yuri's vigilante actions, were given decent resolutions.
- Command & Conquer 4 set out to resolve the many questions surrounding Kane, but it's agreed by most of the fanbase that it simply, and frustratingly, created more questions.
- It did confirm that Kane was an alien being trapped on Earth for the past several millenia.
- Metroid: Other M decided it was a good time to go into Samus' history that was vaguely hinted at in Metroid Fusion, trying to explore her past and who Adam Malkovich was to her. Unfortunately, many people's reactions was that it turned Samus into a shell of the woman she's portrayed as otherwise and gives her some really unnecessary attachment issues.
- This became downright stupid in the infamous Ridley scene, as it would have made a lot more sense to show a flashback to the ravaging of K2L when Samus freezes up (To clarify, Ridley killed her mother and almost killed Samus before Old Bird intervened), rather than show a shot of turning her into a little child (which only makes sense if you've read an obscure manga that was never released outside of Japan) then pulling something about PTSD straight out of nowhere.
- For some fans Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots was a huge case of this.
- The ending of Mass Effect 3 caused uproar among fans, who started not just a petition, but also a whole goddamn charity to get Bioware to change it.
- Although this is a case caused by a lack of explanation. Unlike one would expect, the game offers no explanation for the consequences of your choices or...well, anything. One of the reasons it irks fans so much is that they've spent five whole years debating their choices and having the importance of their actions built up. The devs have promised to fix this with new DLC.
- The explanation for the existence of the Reapers? They are synthetics created to wipe out organics. In order to prevent the organics from making synthetics that will wipe out organics. That being said, the Reapers don't consider what they do to organics to be "wiping them out."