Pseudo Crisis

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Ever notice how something dramatic seems to happen around here every eight minutes? I can't be the only one noticing this.
Red vs. Blue, most episodes of which are ~8 minutes long

Oh no! A bad guy has walked in on a member of a group running an Impossible Mission, or something has otherwise Gone Horribly Wrong in the plan.

This happens right before a commercial break, usually about 40 minutes into an hour-long show. Fortunately, right after the commercials, the hero or team will quickly dispose of the crisis and it will have no effect on the rest of the episode. Note that this can be done well, as repeated uses in quick succession can lull the viewer into a false sense of security so that when the real crisis strikes, it's more serious.

In especially Egregious cases, there's no reason for the main plot to present a Pseudo Crisis, so instead a Non Sequitur Scene will force one.

May lead to odd moments if you watch it on DVD without commercials.

A subtrope of Cliffhanger Copout.

Examples of Pseudo Crisis include:

Advertising

  • In one Corn Pops commercial, a man is eating cereal on a balcony with skyscrapers in the background. The cereal box, on the rail, suddenly begins to topple and fall. In dramatic slow-motion he reaches for it but is too late, screaming, in a deep voiced, slow motion, Noooooooo!. Then it turns out that he wasn't on a balcony at all, he was just on a hill overlooking the city and the ground was right on the other side of the rail.

Anime and Manga

  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!!, a commercial break (or in extreme cases, the end of a two-parter episode) would often hit just as Yugi/Joey/whoever we're rooting for appeared to be panicking over the seemingly unstoppable card their opponent du jour has just pulled out. When we returned, our hero would then quickly produce just the cards needed to win, earlier fear forgotten.
  • In Busou Renkin, Kazuki sends himself and the villain Victor up to the moon at the end of an episode, effectively "killing" the both of them. The other characters spend an entire episode angsting about it, until the beginning of the next episode, when they simply send some people up to get him. Of course it doesn't end that easily, but you have to wonder why they didn't just do that in the first place.
    • A possible reason might be that bringing either of them back to Earth would allow them to suck the life force out of anyone and anything nearby, which makes one wonder why they decide to go get him at all.

Comic Books

  • Subverted and played straight in one issue-ending cliffhanger of Amazing Spider Man. The issue ends with Spidey in quicksand. The next issue opens with him using his web-shooters to latch on to a tree branch, immediately ending the crisis...until the tree branch breaks and falls on him, which also causes his web shooters to jam. Fortunately, immediately afterwards, Ka-Zar swings by and helps

Film

  • In Ocean's Eleven, one of the 11 is tasked with sneaking into the vault, jumping to avoid the sensors in the floor, then placing explosives on the door to let the other robbers in. During the last bit, he gets his hand stuck, leaving him without cover, right as the guys are on the other side of the door about to blow it. After playing it for all the suspense they can...the detonator's batteries are dead. Then, once that's been resolved, they blow the door open...and find their inside man safe inside, wondering what took them so long.
  • Babel was guilty of this trope: showing the nanny verging on panic when she realizes the children she was looking after have run away. Cut to another scene. Cut back to the nanny, now in a police station. Policeman: "You sure are lucky we found those kids, ma'am."
  • An in-universe one was a focal point in the movie Misery, when Annie remembers seeing an old movie serial where the hero was caught in his car as it exploded, only to find next week that he got out of the car ahead of time. This triggers her Berserk Button in a serious way.

Literature

  • Almost every chapter of the children's series The Werewolf Chronicles ends like this. Gasp! Someone's grabbing the hero from behind! ... oh, wait, it's only a tree branch. Never mind.
    • Goosebumps did the exact same thing.
      • "Oh no! I wished my brother was smaller, and my brother is now only a foot tall!" *next chapter* "Oh never mind, it's just my dog."
  • The novella No Score by Chip Harrison starts In Medias Res just as Chip is about to score with a girl, only to have her fiancee burst into the room and shoot him at point blank range. After a bunch of backstory recapping his life up until that point he rejoins the action - and the next chapter, in its entirety, is "THE GUN JAMMED." Harrison then spends the next chapter justifying that. "Look, it was a scary situation but that's what happened. You want me to make something up? I've been trying to think of something else but there's no other way to get from there to here. Either the gun jammed or he killed me and I'm writing this from beyond the grave, so deal with it."

Live Action TV

  • This happened in virtually every episode of Mission: Impossible. The IMF always planned for such possibilities, and sometimes intentionally worked the reveal into their con game.
  • The Amazing Race is absolutely horrible with these. Occasionally there will be a real Commercial Break Cliffhanger, but for every other commercial break, there well be a Pseudo Crisis.
    • In particular, whenever a strong team on a season finale finishes the final task way ahead of everyone else, they will show as much as they can of the first-place team struggling on the final task and/or while making the trip to the finish line. Meanwhile, they'll also show very little footage from the second-place team, to make it look like the second-place team is catching up and might overtake the leaders at the last minute. They never do.
  • In one episode of the '70s version of Battlestar Galactica Classic, at the end of the episode the cast were hiding in a snowy valley, while a group of Cylons passed by in single file. As the last one was passing by, Muffin the dagget barked. The Cylon stopped and looked towards the noise... To Be Continued. Next week, the Cylon just wandered off.
    • Something similar happened in the newer version, without the dog.
  • The original Doctor Who did this incessantly between parts of their serials.
    • Perhaps the most infamous example came in "The Deadly Assassin", when an enemy grabbed the Doctor from behind and started to drown him at the end of an episode. The next week, the man lost energy for no apparent reason, and the Doctor threw him off with ease.
    • And "Genesis of the Daleks", where Sarah loses her grip of a ledge and screams as she plummets... actually, no, there's a ledge six inches below her, and she continues to climb.
    • In "The Brain of Morbius", one episode ends with Sarah pulling back a curtain to reveal a horribly deformed headless frankenbody that sits up and appears to lunge. Cue screechy end of episode riff and goose bumps. In the next episode, the body is merely twitching a little and Sarah barely registers surprise. She doesn't even scream. Sarah Jane Smith doesn't scream. Weak.
    • One of the most Egregious: "Dragonfire", where in the last few minutes of an episode the Doctor puts himself into a literal Cliff Hanger ending situation, for no apparent reason. He suddenly leaves a perfectly safe path to clamber off a high ledge - at which point he finds himself dangling by his umbrella handle, looking horrifiedly down at the yawning chasm below... Then at the start of the following episode he makes it back up again with no real difficulty.
    • It's hard to find a two part episode of the revived Doctor Who that doesn't do this.
      • Of note is the beginning of "The Impossible Planet": at the start of the episode, the Doctor and Rose are wandering though a planetary base and are suddenly cornered by a crowd of Lovecraftian looking aliens chanting "WE MUST FEED! WE MUST FEED!" and we cut to the opening credits. When we cut back:

Ood: WE MUST FEED! WE MUST FEED! {{[[[Percussive Maintenance]] taps translation orb}}] ...you, if you are hungry. Do you want refreshments?

      • A particular egregious example happened in a series finale when the doctor was zapped by a Dalek, but gave a technobabble excuse for not having to regenerate the next episode.
        • In fairness, the manner in which The Doctor avoided renegeration had a profound effect on the plot for the remainder of the episode.
      • A far worse example involved The Doctor locked for eternity in a prison specifically designed to hold him. After he got out, he went back in time and let himself out. How he got out the first time is never explained. Well, specifically what happened at the end of that episode ("The Pandorica Opens") is that the Doctor is locked in the Pandorica for all of eternity, an android Rory kills Amy, River gets stuck in the TARDIS which explodes, and the entire universe ceases to exist. Five minutes into the second part ("The Big Bang"), the earth still somehow exists, Amy is shown to be very much alive, and the Doctor is released from the Pandorica via his Sonic Screwdriver from the future. Ten minutes into the episode, River is rescued from the explosion. All thanks to a "Vortex Manipulator". (The rest of the episode deals with how to get the rest of the universe back.)
      • Just go with it.
  • In the made-for-TV adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, a commercial break comes just as Meg, her father, and Calvin have landed on the planet Ixchel, just barely escaping from the grasp of The Black Thing. Suddenly, over the horizon comes horrible eyeless monsters! The music rises, oh no! Commercial. Come back, and Calvin and Dr. Murry are calmly discussing their plight with the sightless creatures, whom we automatically understand are just really ugly good guys.
  • Played for laughs in one episode of Police Squad! Just before commercial break, Frank Drebin drinks from a glass as he speaks with a woman who we saw drug someone in the teaser. Suddenly the music cues up as he starts gasping and clutching at his throat. After commercial break, it is revealed that his drink went down the wrong pipe.
  • Happens Once Per Episode, and is arguably the only source of tension, on Destination Truth.
  • One happened in the third season of Dexter. An episode ends with Dexter suddenly becoming the target of the season's Big Bad, and then being violently bound and shoved into the trunk of a car. Cut to credits. Well, it looks like this season's finally starting to heat up! Next episode, it turns out that he was being taken to his bachelor party.
  • In Angel, the title character completely despairs of being able to do good in his Crapsack World, and has sex with his old flame Darla hoping for a moment of perfect happiness that will end his curse and let him be the evil, soulless Angelus again. The episode ends with him clutching at his chest, just like he did the last time his soul was removed in parent show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but in the next episode we find that he still has his soul: not one moment of happiness that whole night! No reason for his chest clutching is given (beyond Angel's implied love of melodrama while having a personal epiphany).
    • Some viewers remain convinced that Angel was just screwing with Darla's head, but then decided he didn't want to admit to being that petty.
  • Parodied on SCTV's Six-Gun Justice (a parody of old Western movie serials, the type that were not only made, but set, during WWII). An episode ends with the heroes tied up and yelling in fear as a bomb is dropped on them. Next episode: the hero says, "Lucky that bomb was a dud!"
  • John Wayne made his TV debut in a 1950s episode of "Screen Directors Playhouse" directed by John Ford. Wayne plays a sportswriter covering a scandal about a baseball player. The Pseudo Crisis occurs at the Act Break, when a character we've never seen before (played by Janet Leigh) bursts into Wayne's office and, without saying a word, aims a pistol at his head. Immediately after the commercial, Wayne simply disarms Leigh, and she sits down and explains herself.
  • In Hell's Kitchen if a chef gets so much as a scratch on their body, the producers will frame a commercial break around it. Nineteen times out of twenty, they're back in the kitchen 3 minutes later (and the other one time, yeah, they're badly injured).
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation had an epic one in an episode that was more focused on diplomacy rather than any urgent situation (i.e. no battles or powerful evil forces). Right before one of the commercials, Worf spontaneously faints on the bridge! After the commercial break, it is revealed that he just came down with the Klingon equivalent of measles. (The resulting B-plot is actually pretty all right, but still, talk about a Pseudo Crisis).
    • There's also a rather famous one after the first episode of "Best of Both Worlds", which worked fine when there were months between part I and part II, but kind of falls flat if you watch the series on DVD or streaming. The end of Part I has Riker ordering Worf to fire their jerry-rigged weapon they expect will be able to destroy the Borg cube. The beginning of Part II shows the weapon did squat, because the Borg knew about it before it was fired (due to taking Picard's memories), and it's never mentioned again after the first minute.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series did this a few times. In the episode "The Apple", Spock pushes Kirk out of the way to save him from the darts of a deadly-poisonous plant, but ends up being hit by the darts himself and falling unconscious. McCoy's serum fails to help, and he says Spock must be beamed back up to the ship immediately. As they try to beam out, the transporter promptly fails, stranding the crew on the planet - implying a serious risk to Spock's life. Fortunately, after the commercial break, Spock comes to and is quite alright.
  • The NCIS Episode "Mind Games" has one of the characters tied up by a serial killer right before a commercial break... The next we see, she has a broken arm and the serial killer is dead.
  • Happens often on Prison Break.
  • Not uncommon on Firefly, eg. "Kaylee's dead". (She's not, it's just a mean practical joke.)
    • Or "Mal's dead" (he's revived immediately).
    • To be fair, the Kaylee one didn't even get a commercial break - it was pretty clearly just a joke for joke's sake.
  • True Blood tends to do this with its cliffhangers on every single episode. One particularly annoying one had Bill walking into the Queen's room, only to see a bloody leg hanging off the side of the chair, and Bill staring in shock. End episode. Turns out, it was just sex/lunch.
  • Used regularly for commercial breaks in Ace of Cakes: usually by playing a sarcastic comment from one of the bakers that sounds like a Drama Bomb out of context, or by making it look like the bakers are late/lost during a delivery.
  • The end of the first season of Andromeda had every major character incapacitated, trapped or unconscious as evil aliens attacked. The second season opens with most of them getting back up rather anticlimactically.
  • How I Met Your Mother ended a season 7 episode with Robin telling Barney, in no uncertain terms that she was pregnant. Next week, she clarifies that she was only a week late and hadn't even seen a doctor for confirmation. Turns out she wasn't pregnant.

Newspaper Comics

  • The newspaper strip version of Spider-Man pulled this off a few times. For instance, Peter Parker/Spiderman is about to have his medical examination, but criminals are outside and Spiderman's intervention is needed now! What to do? Come next installment, the criminals have been captured off-screen, so the problem's neatly solved itself.

Video Games

  • King's Quest VII the Princeless Bride alternates gameplay between Queen Valanice and Princess Rosella. At the end of the first chapter Valanice is threatened by a giant monster. As you play as Rosella for chapter two you worry how you're going to get Valanice out of this situation. Start chapter three and you realize that you can just feed a desert fruit to the monster, and he'll go away. Talk about a blatant plot device for the sake of a cliffhanger...

Web Comics

  • Sluggy Freelance once ended a Friday strip with Riff being ambushed and bitten on the head by a zombie. The following Saturday and Sunday are Filler strips, so Sluggy fans had to wait three days to find out what was going to happen. And when Monday comes around ... it turns out the zombie attack was just Torg "punking" Riff with a harmless zombie head on a stick.
    • Another Sluggy one is the end of this, which was followed by this.
  • Played for laughs in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja.
    • On this page, Doc is caught by a police officer, which would derail his mission. The following page shows Doc driving the police car, and explains how the situation was resolved with a header reminding readers that "HE IS A NINJA."
    • Here, Gordito is forced to spend detention with the teacher that he suspects to be a demon in disguise. The teacher's final comment (and dramatic lighting) implies that he knows Gordito was spying on him the night before... but on the next page, it turns out he was referring to something else entirely.
  • In Wizard School, Graham is threatened by school bully Gavin Gothicus and several flunkies mocking his magical scar. Graham drives them away a few pages later with a well-placed cigarette burn.

Western Animation

  • In the Darkwing Duck episode "The Quiverwing Quack", DW, Goslyn, Honker, and Launchpad are all hanging by a rope suspended between buildings. Negaduck cuts it down with a knife, our heroes start swinging towards one direction. Cue closeup of Darkwing's panicked face, cut to commercial... and when we return, they almost immediately crash into the building, followed by Negaduck cutting the opposite end of the rope and letting the heroes fall.
  • The original Spider-Man cartoon. Half the time he's falling to his death, the other half a villain's attack is approaching him. Would you guess he usually escapes using his web? 90% of the time he swings away. The other 10%, he turns his web into a shield or sling or parachute or trampoline or something.
  • The fourth Futurama movie ends with the main characters of the show about to go through a warp hole that will take them to a random place in the universe, most likely never coming back to known space. The fifth season starts with them going through the hole... and ending up back at Earth.
  • The Mega Man cartoon uses this trope in the final episode.