"You know, it's an interesting thing when you consider... The Earth people, who can think, are so frightened by those who cannot: the dead. Well, our ship should be regenerated; we'd better get started."
—Eros, Plan 9 from Outer Space
In An Aesop, the writer has a lesson to teach to the audience. In a Family-Unfriendly Aesop, the writer has a rather unconventional and possibly offensive message to give to the audience. In a Broken Aesop, the writer is aiming for an Aesop without realizing (s)he's undermined that Aesop in the course of the story.
In a Lost Aesop, however, it's not entirely clear whether the writer ever knew exactly what kind of Aesop they were aiming for in the first place.
This is when the audience is clearly presented with a lesson, only to have that moral contradicted, then reinstated, then forgotten about, then addressed, then ignored...you get the picture. It gets so messy that it's no longer clear exactly which Aesop has been broken and which one did the breaking. At some point, certain viewers or readers will begin to have doubts about whether the writer knew what they were doing.
The most usual form of this trope is when the audience is whacked over the head with the moral-of-the-story, only for the plot to ignore that moral and set off in pursuit of another, different one. It's as if the writer changed their minds halfway through the narrative. Note that there is no debate about this; no character will state "Hey, see that lesson we learned half an hour ago? We were wrong." Also, unlike a Broken Aesop, there is nothing subtle about this: one Aesop is explicitly explained only to be undermined equally as clearly. Eventually, the audience will be buried under a number of conflicting messages, stuck going back and forth between them and unable to tell where the writer was originally going with this.
Another common variant is where the Lost Aesop comes about as a result of a writer going deeper into a subject than they could really afford to. Their characters examine all the angles, discuss possible outcomes and argue with each other, but then the writer realizes that they themselves don't know the answer to the question being posed... or they realize that they've run out of time and have to wrap things up in a hurry... or the issue is one that's so polarizing that they can't really pick a side without getting a lot of people mad at them, so they pick a random Aesop and stick with it, Plot Threads be damned. The most successful resolution is usually to opt for a "middle road" between the two conflicting lessons. However, if the logic of the story has become too confused, or several Aesops are vying for the top spot, the author might simply choose the one that makes for the simplest ending. It might work, or it might come off as a half-hearted Ass Pull.
On the other hand, there is a very deliberate employment of this trope, where the writer presents a number of possible lessons or morals to be taken from the events of the story...only to conclude that since they all contradict each other, the answer is that there is no answer. This, however, will probably be spelled out for the viewer rather than quietly ignored.
To identify the Lost Aesop, ask yourself whether watching two different segments of the same show would result in getting two totally different messages. If you manage to find a Lost Aesop, please return it to the address listed on its collar and inform the rest of us so we can stop pondering over the glaring discrepancies that we only noticed upon turning the television off.
Some would argue that, if the above definition is to be used as a guide, then every Aesop should be a Lost Aesop if it's meant to be gracefully presented. Life is so complex that there's rarely, if ever, a single overriding lesson to learn for any scenario, despite what some people think; besides that, nobody likes a really blatant and intelligence-insulting message. Furthermore, due to the fickle nature of human reasoning, it is possible for two people to glean two equally valid - or even contradictory - lessons from the same presentation. If you tell a left-winger that a disgruntled person opened fire on a building full of people, you might get the interpretation of "Guns are dangerous"; if you told the same story to a right-winger, you might then be told something like "If everyone else in that building had been carrying a gun, the shooter wouldn't have dared open fire" (i.e., guns save lives).
While it's obviously a more confused (and less subtle) cousin of the Broken Aesop, the Lost Aesop also claims kinship to the Yo-Yo Plot Point, since it's the recurring nature of a relatively small "error" that sets up a whole lot of confusion. The fact that the Lost Aesop seems more likely to occur in works that are produced by a group rather than a single person might also suggest the reason for the mangled moral was that the opinions and viewpoints of the writing team varied greatly.
Anime and Manga
- In an example of how making an issue too complex can result in confusion, the second season of Kaleido Star couldn't decide whether ruthless competition was a good or a bad thing. Sora's non-confrontational manner and own self-doubts cost her her position as Kaleido Star, as she was usurped by the ambitious May and the icy Leon. Later, she decides to compete against the two of them to prove her worth, with the help of ex-Bad Boy now The Atoner Yuri Killian. At the Circus Festival itself, however, Sora realizes that achieving her own dreams in the contest means crushing everyone else, and ends up throwing the competition away rather than winning such a polluted and underhanded event. Yet Layla berates her for her unwillingness to compete, May is genuinely hurt (to the point of tears and a borderline Heroic BSOD) when Sora openly refuses to compete with her as well, and their viewpoint is presented to the audience as correct...when just a short while ago, Sora's decision not to step on other people on her way to the top was seen as a noble sentiment. The series tapers off into the middle road of "competition does encourage everyone to do their best"... but it does leaves some of the implications the show itself raised unanswered (Is it all right to trample over people who are polite and gentle? Are merciless tactics acceptable in the pursuit of stardom? Is it noble or weak to try and avoid a fight? If a rival who poses a good challenge has his/her wish rejected, is it valid for him/her to be upset or not?).
- Chobits completely lost its Aesop as it navigated the issue of human-Persocom relationships. Hideki begins the series with the belief that Persocoms are machines, and a relationship with such an object is no substitute for human interaction. We meet Yumi, who suffers from an inferiority complex because she feels that she, as a human girl, can't compete with "perfect" persocoms. We also meet Minoru, who has built a persocom as a replacement for his dead older sister. This is presented as understandable...but unhealthy. So far, so good, since everything lines up with the original message. As the series progresses, however, Hideki falls in love with his own Persocom, Chi, and the "robots can't replace humans" sentiment goes flying out the window. At the end of the story, all the moral and social implications of a society that finds companionship in machines rather than other people are quickly swept under the carpet in favour of a rather rushed scenario where the message seems to be "it's okay to love an object, because the fact that you love it makes it worthy of love."
- Aside from the fact that Chi is quite obviously more than just a mere "object", it could be that the real message is that it isn't healthy to live in your own personal echo chamber: i.e., what 90% of people on the internet do. Considering persocoms are basically sexy computers, criticizing internet circlejerks seems like a far more valid message. Or maybe it's just a robot girl love story with no message at all.
- Sadly, the Aesop was completely lost in the Anime. But, in the end, this Troper believed the moral was the question of if it was possible to love someone without the physical act of Sex.. This is certainly something that comes up in Real Life, with some couples having to make similar medically relevant choices in their relationships today.
- Because the Marvel Civil War crossover was written by multiple authors, most of whom didn't agree with the direction Marvel was going, the moral behind the story seems to jump from book to book. It's okay to sacrifice liberty for security, especially when dealing with superpowered individuals—except wait, no it's not. America means freedom and righteousness and all that is good—wait, it means Myspace and YouTube. Allowing the leaders to do their jobs is a perfectly legitimate course of action—wait, you'll get drafted into a superpowered army and made a slave of the state. Iron Man is cool—wait, he's a douche!
- JLA: Act of God is confusing and written by only one writer. Is the moral of the story that powers leads to arrogance? You're only a real super hero if you don't have super powers? You should work inside the system? Other than "Batman is awesome," it's never really clearly told.
- Wild Cards the Hard Call seems to be making a statement on acceptance, beauty, and medical experimentation but what that statement is couldn't be more opaque.
- In "Countdown to Final Crisis" Trickster and Piper went on a Journy that was intended to lead to Trickster overcoming his Homophobia and learning a lesson, but the story deevoled to the point where Trickster received a bullet to the head due to attack unrelated to the intended moral, no lesson was ever apparent from this resolution.
- A very lost aesop happened during Peter David's first run on X Factor (when it was a government superteam). A scientist had developed a way to test fetuses for the mutant gene, in the womb... and then would offer to abort the baby if it was a mutant. The X-Factor team was, naturally, horrified by this, especially Wolfsbane, who is both mutant and Catholic. Except... due to Executive Meddling, the "abortion" option was excised, and the doctor instead was offering an in utero cure for the mutant gene. The team's reactions were not changed; they were still horrified, even Wolfsbane, who has often said she would be much happier if she hadn't been born a mutant. The aesop went from being about abortion to being a vague Fantastic Aesop about it not being okay to de-mutantify unborn babies.
Films -- Animated
Films -- Live Action
- As suggested at the top of the page, Plan 9 from Outer Space positively revels in this to the point where, while you're sure the creator intends for you to take home some kind of message, it's impossible to work out just what that message is supposed to be. The aliens come to Earth to stop humanity from blowing up the universe, but they do this by, well, animating corpses and having them kill a few people. About the time you think old Ed Wood expects you to side with the aliens (not destroying the universe seems good), their destruction by the humans is presented as a happy ending. It doesn't help that all the characters are as incompetent as their creator. In the end, the only real moral you can take home from this film is that there are some films best watched with friends so you can laugh at them. It's a pretty good moral, but probably not what Wood intended.
- Westworld is an odd case in that the Aesop is still present till the end, but isn't ever explained. We're given that people are living out their fantasies by committing horrible deeds against robots, and that the robots are now killing them, but are we supposed to sympathize with the robots? Are we supposed to think they've gone too far? Are they just supposed to be The Scourge of God, with no true thoughts of their own? And let's not get into the Black Knight on his throne.
- There are two or three aesops that might be plausible from Westworld, one would be 'Don't let fantasy take over too much of your real life', or 'Even if you're living out evil or bad deeds in fantasy, it's still wrong.' Or it would be just as plausible to read the aesop as 'make sure your machines are properly designed and maintained and that you _understand how they work_.'
- Terminator: not any individual entry in the series but the franchise as a whole jumps between Screw Destiny and You Can't Fight Fate with regard to whether or not the heroes can stop Skynet from being built and initiating Judgment Day in which it kills off most of the human race. The first film has Skynet create a Stable Time Loop when Cyberdine uses a recovered piece of the Terminator it sent back to build what will become Skynet. The second film cancels this out, as the heroes have become Genre Savvy about the Stable Time Loop and do everything they can to destroy all Terminator/Skynet technology that could be used to build Skynet. The 3rd film  has Skynet activate and start Judgement Day later than originally fated but the message is it will still happen nonetheless. The Sarah Connor Chronicles fleshes it out even further, showing Skynet using Time Travel to help create itself in the present day and sowing the seeds for Judgment Day to ensure that no matter how many alternate realities/futures are created by the heroes changing things in the present, Skynet is still the Big Bad.
- The Invention of Lying: A world without lying is a sad place where everyone everyone is bluntly cruel and shallow. In a world with lying, however, religion becomes the opiate of the masses, tricking people into feeling good about life, but it's all a sham. So are religion and lying good or bad for us?
- Perhaps that there's a time when lying is the better option, but that we should also value the truth, and know when to stop a lie before it goes to far? Or maybe we're all just reading too far into it.
- Deliberately invoked in X-Men: The Last Stand: Is the mutant cure right or wrong, and is it ok to use the cure on dangerous mutants against their will? The X-Men can't agree on whether the cure is just a matter of personal preference that should at least be an option for mutants who can't live a normal life otherwise or have powers that are hazardous to others, or if these justified applications are only the first step as a tool for the government to suppress mutants everywhere. The message is especially muddled when you consider that the series has frequently drawn parallels between discrimination against mutants and discrimination against real minorities such as Jews and homosexuals. Yet Storm, the mutant who insists the loudest that they (as in all mutants) don't need to be "cured" because there's "nothing wrong with them" has neither the Power Incontinence nor the inhumanly freakish appearance (which Beast even calls her out on) that prevents other mutants from living a comfortable existence among non-mutant humans. In the end, there is no simple answer Magneto getting depowered is played as good, removing his powers without killing him. However, it is played as a tragedy for Rogue.
- The latter is extremely debateable: It's more of a tragedy for Rogue fans than Rogue herself: Although Bobby seems disappointed with her choice, she basically holds her head up and says "I did what was right for me and I'm not going to apologise." Brett Ratner indicated the intention was to contrast with Angel refusing the cure earlier in the movie, showing it should be down to the individual and both choices were equally valid. Perhaps likening it more to the abortion debate than ethnic prejudice makes more sense in this case (should it be illegal? should it be left as an individual's choice? should there always be a legal exception for dangerous/medical cases?). Still plenty of Unfortunate Implications abound and no clear stance is taken in the film
- The movie Showgirls seems to be trying to prove something but neither the viewers or the movie itself seem to grasp just what that message is. At first it may seem like it's trying to say that a person should never compromise their morals, where Nomi is shown refusing to put ice cubes on her breasts to make her nipples stand up and refuses to do something that's implied to be prostitution.... But this would only work if the character were a legitimate Stripper With A Heart Of Gold, in that stripping was the worst thing she did. She had no problems pushing the lead dancer down the stairs to injure her, sleeping with her boss to get higher in the position to be said dancer's understudy. She seemed to be very happy with the idea of doing extremely graphic things on the stage of the old strip club. So "don't compromise your morals" can't work because the character's morals are borderline psychotic. Her interactions with other characters seem to indicate that the message is something about how Nomi really is a bad person at heart, that Cristal was right and Nomi really was a whore, who while at first denied it, began to accept it willingly or not. But then every other character in the entire movie acts as if Nomi is an absolute saint, no matter what she does. Even the girl she pushed down the stairs calls her a whore as if it were a compliment.
- Limitless for awhile seems to aim at a moral of "You don't need drugs to improve your life and if you do it'll collapse", the protagonist's girlfriend refusing to continue using the drug and evidence of people collapsing and dying who use it if they can't continue the addition and obvious side effects seem to work that way. But in the end the protagonist ends up just subverting this and develops a way to keep getting a source of the drug and his life is all the better for it. The real message one seems to take is you can manipulate people to your own means and completely get away with it if you do it right.
- Fly By Night is a film that doesn't know whether to praise hip-hop or condemn it. It tends to flip flop when it comes to criticizing Hardcore Hip Hop, but it also seem to chastise Conscious Hip Hop, and Political Rap as well.
- Camp Nowhere seems to have some kind of Aesop at the end, but good luck trying to figure out what the heck it is. It could be that kids shouldn't worry about having potential and growing up, but the film's hero stands up to his father and says that it's "okay to be stupid sometimes." It could also be about how Growing Up Sucks, but the hero does learn some responsibility during the movie and even looks forward to dating his love interest when they're older. Maybe the lesson is that it's wrong to fool your parents and start a phony summer camp, but that was a borderline Fantastic Aesop even in 1994, and everyone ends up thanking the hero for the fun summer anyway, so THAT can't be it...
- In his book On Writing, Stephen King said one of the characters in The Stand was going to make an observation about the purpose of the events in one part of the book... only for King to realize he didn't have a convincing message handy. The character eventually ends up saying that he simply doesn't know.
- Another King example: In his nonfiction horror analysis Danse Macabre, he notes that Mary Shelley in Frankenstein never makes clear whether Victor Frankenstein's fatal sin is in presuming to create life, or in refusing to take responsibility for his creation afterwards... neither of which is mutually exclusive. To the book's benefit, arguably.
- This is one occasion where the Death of the Author is probably beneficial. Mary Shelley was writing for the Romantic movement, so the former can be taken as implied.
- In Victor's case, they are one and the same thing. When he gained the ability to create life, Victor became obsessed with making an artificial man...but his motive was purely self-centered. Prior to animation, everything he visualized about his creation was in reference to himself, how his creations would think of him, the importance of his role in the history of the future, there was no concept, no recognization, of the reality of his creation as a separate entity, with a life and nature and role of its own separate from Victor's wants and needs. When face-to-face with the actuality of that separateness, as opposed to the fantasy that had obsessed him, Victor was repulsed and abandoned his creation in digust. In later time Victor comes to look back and recognize his own obsession, but too late. Victor was like a couple that planned every step of their child's life during pregnancy, with no thought whatever for the actuality of the child.
- In his novel Podkayne of Mars Robert A. Heinlein was trying for an Aesop about the dangers of Hands-Off Parenting. However, until the Character Filibuster at the end, there's really nothing in the novel that suggests that the characters' parents lack of involvement was to blame for their problems - or even that, by today's standards, the parents were uninvolved to begin with.
- The Gods of the Copybook Headings by Rudyard Kipling is about terminal failures to learn, and notes that for those who did learn it's rather predictable by now…
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer continuously flip-flops on its stance on the new way vs. the old way. On one hand, we have Buffy herself, who acts like no other Slayer before her, having family and friends. On the other hand, modern weaponry (that is, anything newer than bladed weaponry) is continously said to be useless even though it would be quite useful (shotgun blast to the head of a vampire should at least lobotomize it, if not dust it and most guns could work wonders on demons). It gets even worse after they use a Rocket Launcher to destroy a demon that was unable to be destroyed by "any weapon forged".
- The first season episode "Witch" starts off seeming to be about parental pressure, presenting us with a shy, sympathetic girl who has been bullied by her mother into joining the cheerleading squad and is so desperate not to fail she has been using witchcraft to injure and disfigure the other candidates. Then, it seems that the girl is just psychotic and her mother is actually living in fear of her. Then, it turns out that the mother has actually swapped bodies with her daughter and she's the one who's been off cheerleading and disfiguring while the daughter has been left trapped in her body. Which takes the initial theme of parents reliving their teenage years vicariously through their children to extremes but completely loses the theme of teenagers going to extreme lengths to satisfy overbearing parents.
- The Power Rangers Ninja Storm episode "All About Beevil" mostly acts as a warning against trusting people, seeing Dustin first lose his bike to a scammer (the guy promised to improve it, but when Dustin went to pick it up, all he found was an empty lot), then get backstabbed when he tried to help Marah through a Heel Face Turn. But at the end as he's reeling from Marah's betrayal, the other Rangers remind him of decisions to trust that worked out, and the "scammer" returns the bike saying that the printers must have mixed up his address on his business card. Dustin sums up, "Sometimes you just gotta trust people!" Uhh...
- That last was said jokingly. Also, put all together... well, one person who seemed trustworthy wasn't, and one who seemed untrustworthy was. So... don't be paranoid but do keep your wits about you. The person who repeatedly tried to blow you up probably didn't get over it in one day, but with any given human it could go either way.
- The Doctor Who serial "The Rebel Flesh" really feels like it should have a moral. Good look figuring out what it is, though; bigotry prevents peace? You shouldn't kill non-humans unless you're the Doctor? You're dispensible if there's an identical copy of you around? Don't worry about being different because there's a cure for everything?
- The Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Obsession" is a monster-hunt story that revolves, for the most part, around Kirk's titular obsession with the monster. When the creature first attacked him and the ship he was serving on, 11 years earlier, he hesitated to fire at it and the creature killed half the ship's crew. In the episode itself, a young security officer on the Enterprise also hesitates when faced with the same creature, and the creature ends up killing several men. Both Kirk and the young officer blame themselves for their crew-mates' deaths, and there is plenty of angst over the matter. How is this solved? Turns out that the creature is immune to phasers, and neither of the two men could've stopped it when they had the chance. The Aesop that was being set up is that "humans hesitate by nature, sometimes it can't be helped, and you can't spend your life blaming yourself for it". This is even outright explained by Spock. However it ends up being something like "failure is sometimes okay in hindsight" - which is no Aesop at all. Needless to say, once the creature is revealed to be nigh-invulnerable, the episode proceeds with the monster-hunt and never touches on any of the above in any way.
- Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son" is about rich children being bought exemptions from the draft, but is often mistaken for being against the draft, or Vietnam.
- Thief: They are definately trying to make some kind of point involving Paganism, science and Christianity, but it's a bit hard to work out exactly what simply because of the way it all comes together. The most you can really pull form it is that there are no real bad guys, just a lot of people who are ruled by fanaticism. You can't really say that the message is that the Hammers (the Christian analog faction) are bad since they are technically just temperamental over-zealous good guys and help you beat the first game. You can't say the Pagans are bad, despite them being the villains of the first game, since they are shown to be sympathetic people (the massacre of Pagan women and children by Mechanists, and a certain book in a rotting house being good examples) who help you beat the second game in much the same way as the Hammers did in the first. We can't even say that the game is pro or anti science since the Mechanists are villains obsessed with technology, but the Hammers are pretty obsessed by it too. It's not even clear if the Mechanists are an analog for communist fanatics,atheist fanatics, scientific fanatics, or religious ones. So, in the end the message is probably 'beware of getting ideological about stuff. Or something.
- Bob and George: Mega Man starts out warning against violence, lapses into firing at Roll, and ends up warning against ice cream.
- Full Frontal Nerdity had a discussion on what "the message" from WALL-E may be.
- Gunnerkrigg Court Chapter 62. Coyote told Parley and Smitty about one of his strange misadventures and then began to try and figure out what "the moral of the story" he just narrated could possibly be. Of course, later we find out that his real purpose (or at least one of those) was to give them strange gifts as mementos, so that they'd be stored in the Court until needed. All of this was very much like him, so guess he also taught them a lesson about who they deal with?
- The Simpsons episode "Blood Feud" deliberately invoked a Lost Aesop, when the family considered various morals to the story, and then realised that no, something happened that didn't fit, before eventually concluding "It was just a bunch of stuff that happened."
- Another Simpsons episode with a Lost Aesop can be the 10th season episode "Lisa Gets an 'A'". This episode was about Lisa getting sick from having Homer shove her into a supermarket's ice cream freezer a little too long. Marge makes her stay home from school and she does so with Marge's advice that she forget about trying to learn and play some of Bart's video games. Lisa does so playing a Crash Bandicoot spoof to the point she is hooked. In the process she gets a homework reading assignment: her class started reading The Wind in the Willows. She spends the duration of her sick leave playing the game. When she goes back to the class, she had not read the book and her class is now being tested on it. Finally with some urging from Bart and Nelson Muntz, Lisa takes a cheat sheet and attains a very high grade. Later Principal Skinner calls her to the office to discuss the test: her lone test grade brought the entire school's GPA up to its minimum standard and the school now qualifies for a grant. Even after Lisa deliberately confesses to having cheated, Principal Skinner and Superintendent Chalmers try to have her stay quiet long enough so the school can get the grant money, feeling it would do a lot of good for the school. In the end Lisa fixes her grade in the privacy of her own home, while the school staff gets the grant money and they cash it at a liquor store. What... exactly is the message of this episode? It's okay to cheat as long as it helps? No, that's not right. Could it be "Don't worry about your grades Lisa, you're surrounded by idiots"? No, measuring intelligence on nothing but academic achievements is rather asinine. Maybe it's Do your homework and don't abuse your sick leave? Eh, too blatant. Maybe it's... you know what, forget it. I'll just say the message truly lies in the subplot with Homer and his pet lobster Pinchy: If you adopt a lobster as a pet, don't give it a hot bath for too long or you'll accidentally cook it. There, satisfied.
- Yet another example in Itchy and Scratchy The Movie:
Homer: You know, when I was a boy I really wanted a catcher's mitt, but my dad wouldn't get it for me. So I held my breath until I passed out and banged my head on the coffee table. The doctor thought I might have brain damage.
Bart: Dad, what's the point of this story?
Homer: I like stories.
- Another arises in "The Cartridge Family". In this episode, Marge and Homer are at odds over a gun he buys, which even leads Marge to briefly leave him. In the end, Homer finally agrees to let Marge get rid of the gun, so Marge heads to the nearest garbage bin to throw it out. However, seeing herself holding the gun from a reflection in the lid, she decides to hold on to the gun, putting it in her purse. The writers said that there was no real message from the story, but if there was, it'd be that a man like Homer Simpson should not have a gun, so... mission accomplished?
- An episode of The Boondocks animated series comes to mind, first presenting the Aesop of "You can't engage in racial profiling, it's just wrong in multiple senses of the word" when an innocent, intelligent, and very moral black prosecutor of all people gets arrested and psychologically coerced and tricked into confessing to the "X-Box murder" that he never committed, basically because he was black...only to just minutes later reveal that a bunch of random middle-eastern men who seem to be innocent store owners are actually a terrorist front...oh wait, they're not really terrorists, just stereotypical Middle Easterners packing heavy firepower for self-defense but everyone believes they're terrorists because Ed Wuncler is the son of a rich white man and therefore could never have been committing armed robbery against the store owners. We never truly find out if they're terrorists or just overly-cautious store owners and the Xbox killer is caught offscreen after he killed another victim, which makes it unclear if the message is that racial bias is right or wrong. The episode was a Lost Aesop on purpose: it was meant to be a satire of the Iraq War in which the Middle Eastern shopkeeper represented Saddam Hussein, so the idea with him was "He's a rotten person and the world's probably better without him in power, but he wasn't remotely involved in the crime we thought he was and we broke the law by going after him." Which is a valid message, but the way it was pulled off was still at odds with the other "racial profiling" plot and it was so incredibly dense that most viewers didn't get the message.
- Justice League:
- A Better World averted this in the finished product, but lost its Aesop when they were writing it. Batman and an overly enthusiastic version of Batman from a parallel world are engaged in a freedom vs. safety debate. When writing the exchange, the writers intended to have the "real" Batman win with his freedom argument, however when they gave the "evil" Batman a line about the murder of the Wayne family the writers could not think of any retort for the "good" Batman to make. They had meant for him to win the argument, but ended up convincing themselves that the "evil" argument was the right one (At least, that it was the right argument from the Batmans' perspective). Thankfully, they developed a retort for a later scene which featured one of the downsides of the totalitarian regime, and the final episode maintained its "Safety at all costs is not worth the price" message.
- Unlimited Seasons One and Two: Even the writers admit that they had written themselves into a corner concerning whether or not superheroes were a good or a bad thing, which was the driving question of the two-season long Myth Arc. Thankfully, then the space alien computer showed up and it was so cool, few cared until they reached the fridge.
- According to DVD commentary, the creators eventually decided that they believed a super powered vigilante organization like the Justice League would be bad in the real world, but good to have around in a world with supervillains.
- The fourteenth episode of Star Wars The Clone Wars seemed to be all over the place with its moral. Half the time, the moral seems to be that it is wrong to try and force pacifists into a war, but the other half of the time, it seems to be saying pacifists are cowardly pussies and if war comes your way, you should pick a side, like it or not.
- The episode really had two protagonist groups who each learned a different lesson ("Don't drag other people into your problems" for the Jedi and "Once you've been dragged you into a problem, ignoring it won't make it go away" for the pacifists). It's a problem shared by most non-propaganda war stories where the good guys need to look like heroes without glorifying war: ultimately, the moral comes down to "Fighting is bad; losing is worse."
- The X-Men: Evolution episode "Walk on the Wild Side" seems to start out with a "girl power" message, as the female mutants form a crime-fighting team after they get fed up of not being apreciated after Scott's Chronic Hero Syndrome causes him to act like a shining knight and unthinkingly ruins the Aesop Jean was trying to teach Amara. Towards the ending, Cyclops and Nightcrawler decide to spy on the girls as they track down and confront a gang. The girls finally call it quits when a female police officer tells them that what they're doing is wrong... But after they leave, the policewoman turns out to be Mystique in disguise.
- A The Weekenders episode opens with Tish distraught that her report card has a negative comment about her being too much of a perfectionist. Later, the other guys ask her to paint a seaweed statue for an auction. She paints the statue, saying, "It's not perfect, but it's good enough..." but then she decides that a different kind of seaweed would work better for the statue, and she ends up returning the statue unpainted because she didn't have time to paint the rebuilt statue. After the auction, Tish is disappointed at her perfectionism streak screwing up the job... and then one of the teachers buys up the statue. The ep ends with her straightening up the shot before the usual "Later days!" So... is perfectionism supposed to be good or not?
- It could be taken as saying not to get too hung up on being perfect, because the finished product is still good. That would be a better message to send than just "don't try too hard to be perfect", I think, because some perfectionists try so hard because they think they'll outright fail otherwise. If Tish's statue hadn't sold, it would have confirmed that not being perfect made it a failure, but as it is, it shows that Tish still succeeded while managing to let it go.
- Recess had quite a few of these in its time:
- One episode had the children stuck inside for Recess because it was raining outside. Miss Finster is delighted about this, hoping that keeping the children off the playground will turn them into mindless zombies as it did with a previous class of hers. TJ eventually gives an impassioned speech about how it's just water and can't hurt them before veering off into how adults are using the rain as an excuse to tell them what to do. He and the gang go outside to play in the rain and the sun comes out. At the end of the episode they are implied to have gotten sick from playing in the rain. So was the lesson "don't be afraid of water", "don't let adults tell you what to do", "staying indoors for too long will turn you into a zombie", "playing in the rain will make the sun come out"...you'll get a headache if you try to figure it out.
- The Thomas the Tank Engine special Misty Island Rescue. The film is supposedly about making good decisions... only the writers themselves can't seem to decide whether or not Thomas should make decisions and think for himself, and the other characters never seem to object to Thomas's stupid choices, making the whole thing quite vague.
- Powerpuff Girls "Imaginary Fiend." The episode was about a boy who made an imaginary friend, only the imaginary friend turned out to be real. He was still imaginary, but he could move things without being seen. In the end, the Powerpuff girls invented their own imaginary friend to fight him. In the beginning, the moral appeared to be "Don't invent an imaginary friend to blame on your actions," but even Bubbles said it "Wasn't (Mike's) fault, he was evil to begin with." In the end, the message seemed to be when you can't battle an imaginary-realistic friend, invent your own. Not to mention what Buttercup says in the end:
Buttercup "But from now on, um, uh... from now on, um, uh, I can't think of anything."
- In Family Guy episode "Stew-Roids", the Alpha Bitch Connie D'Amico starts dating Chris as part of a Pygmalion Plot bet, but when he treats her kindly and with respect she abandons the bet and starts dating him for real. Chris gets spillover popularity from dating Connie, which results in his becoming an asshole and breaking her heart. Rather exploring this idea (that pretty people aren't always jerks and that popularity can go to anyone's head), the rest of the plot focuses on Connie trying to win back her popularity purely for comedic purposes.
- There are way too many other episodes of Family Guy with Lost Aesops to list here.
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, it's part of the premise that each story has an aesop stated outright at the end. The writers can usually handle this pretty well, even though the episodes can be about anything, but they can't all be gems. Sometimes, perhaps, the story would work better without the obligatory aesop, and it shows. ("Lesson Zero" even has a plot revolving around Twilight Sparkle going crazy over not having found any aesop to report to her mentor like she's supposed to.)
- In "Feeling Pinkie Keen", Twilight Sparkle is repeatedly skeptical and repeatedly surprised at correlations between Pinkie Pie's physiology and imminent future events; depending on the series of nerve sensations and muscle spasms, seemingly unconnected events can be predicted. Twilight defaults to being an Agent Scully for most of the episode (although, it should be said, she does at one point try and fail to get the kind of data on the phenomenon that she could handle), until at the end she's forced to accept the phenomenon she's actually been seeing all the time with her own eyes "on faith". The point is actually stated as being that you can accept some things even if you don't understand them, but Twilight wasn't even trying to understand anything for most of the time, just to deny it. After people noted the apparent Family-Unfriendly Aesop that science can't explain everything and therefore you should believe in some paranormal things or something similar, Word of God admitted that the aesop had got lost along the way. Then again, the comment by Lauren Faust about what it was really supposed to be about still sounded like a lost aesop, not really making the matter much clearer. Perhaps more to the point was the mention that it was supposed to be a funny episode about the characters' personalities interacting.
- "Over a Barrel" is about a conflict between settler ponies and Native American themed buffalo. The historical treatment of Native Americans certainly can't be discussed in it, so the conflict is one of misunderstanding and conflict of interest between equally powerful parties. But really it just seems like an excuse to put the ponies in a Wild West setting for some reason. Pinkie Pie tries to solve the situation by singing an extremely naïve song about how "You gotta share, you gotta care" that only escalates the conflict. However, the parties are actually quite willing to compromise as soon as they figure out how. The conflict is solved mainly because it wasn't that bad to begin with. The official aesop at the end, then, is pretty vacuous, and ends with "You've got to share; you've got to care." (Pinkie Pie: "Hey! That's what I said!") If that wasn't a stealth Spoof Aesop, it's kind of confusing; is it good to assume everyone can just be nice and get along, or not?
- In the end of the first Transformers Prime story arc, Jack abandoned the Autobots for a normal life, only to then rejoin as they battle Decepticons, which he does little to nothing to really help due to the fact he can't. Then Arcee gets injured and Jack stays because she was his first bike. Not really clear if their was an aesop, but it feels like there was one somewhere. Maybe its 'don't leave your friends?' No, 'You can't abandon your calling?' No, How about 'Being pals with Optimus Prime and a bunch of Robots is cool.' Yeah, I'll take that, but that's the aesop of every Transformer episode, hell, that's just what we figure out for ourselves when we watch it.
- Adventure Time is full of these; intentionally, as often as not, especially one episode where Jake explicitly declares that there was a lesson to be learned and he avoided it.
- and the beginning of the post-Cameron canon that was intended to end with Terminator 2