The Bus Came Back

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

A major character gets Put on a Bus. In many cases, we never see them again, except for that one episode where they come back and work with the remaining main characters one more time. This trope is about that episode.

This generally works in one of two ways. Either we get to find out what they've been up to, and then they go back to whatever it was, or it's used as a way to advance their plot or character development even though they're no longer on the show—in which case the episode generally ends by putting them on a different, less accessible, bus.

Compare Back for the Dead, which is the subtrope where the character dies at the end of the return episode; Commuting on a Bus, where a former major character turns into a recurring guest character; and Back for the Finale, where a character returns expressly for a show's final episode. If, on the other hand, a character never comes back even though it'd be easy for the character to return for at least one episode, then it's a Long Bus Trip.

Often this is invoked as part of Gondor Calls for Aid, sometimes bringing back former villains to fight against the Big Bad because Even Evil Has Standards. If the returning character suddenly has a new personality than showcased before, it's a case of Not as You Know Them.

Not to be mixed up with He's Back, which is when a mainstay character recovers from a personal crisis.

Examples of The Bus Came Back include:

Anime and Manga

  • Mazinger Z: Kouji Kabuto, Sayaka Yumi and nearly all Mazinger Z characters were Put on a Bus at the end of the series. Several of them returned at the end of ''Great Mazinger, though: Kouji, Sayaka and Prof. Yumi. When UFO Robo Grendizer started, though, Kouji was the only character of both series was not Put on a Bus. The Bus Came Back for Boss for two episodes, and it was supposed to come back for Sayaka as well, but Executive Meddling prevented it.
  • Pokémon:
    • The Pokemon Chronicles special episodes were largely about this, showing the adventures of characters that the show had left behind.
    • The main series, being a Long Runner with only five characters being permanent fixtures (Ash/Pikachu/Jessie/James/Meowth) has this several times. Misty showed up in Hoenn for a two-parter and then later met up with Ash in Pallet Town and spent an episode revisiting Mt. Moon. May showed up in the middle of Sinnoh for a Tournament Arc. Even one-shot characters can randomly show up for another episode.
    • The Pokemon are even more prone to show up again. Since Ash drops off most of his roster at Professor Oak's lab these days, he has access to them at any time. In theory anyway - in practice they are mostly just seen when Ash returns home. Squirtle and Charizard also come back from time to time, there was an episode in Johto where Ash met up with Lapras again and, most recently, Ash's Gliscor came back just in time for Ash's Sinnoh League battle against Paul.
  • In the Oh My Goddess! manga, a lot of characters from Nekomi Tech, such as Megumi, Sora, Tamiya, Otaki, and Aoshima, were Put on a Bus, and have so far appeared only once since Volume 20, which is around the time Keiichi and Belldandy graduated. It may have been unintentional, due to the fact that the series itself slowed down considerably after Volume 16 or so. Also, Sayoko, the series' first Harmless Villain (there are two others, who appeared in subsequent chapters) has not reappeared since Volume 15.
  • Practically any character in One Piece can show up again, as long as they haven't died.
    • Shanks comes in some of the first episodes, saves Luffy's life, leaves, leaving a Chekhov's Gun in the process. 400 odd chapters later, he ends the Whitebeard War, before leaving again.
    • "From the Decks of the World" shows what every character who has been major at some point in the series has been up to since Monkey D. Luffy and his crew encountered them. If a major character doesn't appear in this sub-series and is not a villain, then odds are either they have already returned, or they're on a higher-class bus and will return to the main story later.
    • Even most of the villains came together for the Impel Down story arc. Luffy is certainly surprised to see them all again.
  • After the horrifying school shooting in which her best friend was almost killed, many students died or were hurt, and she was almost raped by the younger Kuroda (with his gun), Noriko Kimura from Wolf Guy Wolfen Crest pretty much disappears from the story. However, we later learn that her family moved to Nara specifically for her sake. So when Inugami goes there to hide from Haguro, he ends up meeting with her again.
  • In Cardcaptor Sakura, Meiling comes back for an episode in the Sakura Card arc, having been Put on a Bus in episode 43.
  • Lately in Bleach, Rukia and members of Gotei 13 have returned after almost 50 chapters to have Ichigo gain his Shinigami powers back so he can fight the newest villains.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, upon the revolt in Central, the bus not only comes back, but it's loaded to the brim with weaponry and ammo for the Mustang faction (supplied by Jean Havoc), with none other than second lieutenant Maria Ross at the wheel. Talk about a Badass Bus, eh?

Comic Books

  • When Willy Vandersteen started the Belgium comic series Suske en Wiske in 1945, he originally wanted it to be about Wiske and her older brother Rikki. However, this format didn't turn out the way he planned so after just one story Rikki was put on a bus; he left to go buy new shoes, but never returned and was never mentioned again. Over 50 years later, in 2003, the character finally returned for a single story to reveal what became of him.
  • The final storyline of the 2003-2011 Teen Titans series had several Titans who were put on a bus at the start of JT Krul's run (notably Aquagirl and Bombshell, who were "fired" from the team off-screen and never mentioned again) coming back to aid the current team in their Final Battle. A number of other former Titans, many of whom weren't necessarily put on a bus, came back as well.


  • Ray - Ray Charles' mother was active through much of Ray's life but the film makes it appear as though she didn't have an active role in his young development. She died before he met his first wife. In fact, Ray's life is portrayed as a rotating support circle. Different bandmates and managers guided him along different steps of the way and then he outgrew them and moved onto a new support circle. In reality, Ray kept in touch with a lot of his earlier band mates and Ahmet Ertegun (Curtis Armstrong) knew Ray until the end of his life. Once Ray dropped him as a manager, he didn't appear again in the movie though.
  • Scarecrow in the Dark Knight trilogy. He's a fairly main character in Batman Begins until Ra's Al Ghul shows up, and escapes on a horse during the final fight. In The Dark Knight, he's used to demonstrate how weird Gotham crime has become now that Batman has been around, and gets arrested. And he's been confirmed for at least an appearance in The Dark Knight Rises. So everytime you think he's gone for good, he comes back.


  • Discworld: Twoflower is put on a bus at the end of The Light Fantastic. He returns (or, rather, Rincewind returns to him) in Interesting Times, about a decade later. He has not been seen since, except for a small mention in The Last Hero.
    • Then there's Eskarina Smith. Admittedly she belongs in the earlier stranger parts like Twoflower, but it took her 23 years and over three dozen books to return.

Live-Action TV

  • Most famously on The Dukes of Hazzard, with Bo and Luke returning after being absent for most of the show's fifth season due to contract issues with actors John Schneider and Tom Wopat. (Unlike most examples of this trope, the bus brought them back not just for a visit, but for good.)
    • Deputy Enos Strate, who'd left Hazzard in the third season for his own short-lived spinoff show, returned at the start of season 3 (just as Bo and Luke were leaving). He also stuck around for the remainder of the show's run.
  • Oz and Riley both get these in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For Oz, it's "New Moon Rising"; for Riley, it's "As You Were".
  • Cordelia got one in the last season of Angel, though it was something of a mixed visit.
  • After being written out at the start of season 5 of Alias, Weiss returns eight episodes later in S.O.S. to help sneak APO out of Langley.
  • Having fled to Australia halfway through the second season of Veronica Mars, Duncan returned for a brief cameo in the finale, just long enough to earn himself a Crowning Moment of Awesome.
  • Jorja Fox as Sara Sidle on CSI; eventually, this turned into a borderline between this and Commuting on a Bus. She's listed as a regular, but always misses a handful of episodes each season. William Peterson was rumored to be returning as well, but though he had a brief cameo in one ep, it was decided he wouldn't return for more yet, so as not to take the focus away from Catherine getting put on the bus.
  • CSI: NY sort of did with Aiden Burn, but she only showed up in a couple flashbacks and get Stuffed in The Fridge in the main plot ep itself.
  • After Jonas goes back to his home planet in Stargate SG-1, he returns in "Fallout" and then never again. His home planet was mentioned in passing as one of a number of planets captured by the Ori, so it's possible he had a Bus Crash.
  • Denise in The Cosby Show
  • Sinclair in Babylon 5, in "War Without End".
    • Also Lyta Alexander returned first in the S2 episode Divided Loyalties and returns as a recurring character in the following seasons
    • Also happened with Na'Toth, G'Kar's second aide. After the original actress decided not to reprise her role for season two she was recast. The new actress proved dissappointing in the role so the character was given less screen time and seemingly killed off. Three seasons later Na'Toth returns in a single episode to recieve a decent send off.
  • Dirk Benedict's character Starbuck from the original Battlestar Galactica returned for a single episode of Galactica 1980 after being put on a bus (due to Galactica 1980 being set 30 years into the future).
  • In Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • "Yesterday's Enterprise" was originally supposed to be a Back for the Dead episode for Tasha (using ripple-effect time travel to get around the fact that she was already dead), but it got a Cosmic Retcon into the more general version of this trope in order to allow her to have a Romulan daughter.
    • Next Generation also has Wesley Crusher himself, who gets Put On A Shuttle to Starfleet Academy before returning for three episodes: one where he fights the spread of a brainwashing game aboard the Enterprise, one where the group of stunt pilots he's part of is charged and reprimanded for trying a dangerous maneuver that killed a member of the team and a third where he returns to the Enterprise on leave, only to resign from Starfleet in order to save a Magical Native American settlement from getting kicked off their planet due to a Federation-Cardassian treaty. He gets put on a Long Bus Trip at the end of the episode. (A Wesley cameo at Riker's wedding was filmed for Nemesis, but mostly didn't make it into the final movie. Wesley is visible at the edge of one scene at Riker and Troi's wedding.) He also had a cameo in an episode where Worf visited a parallel universe where Wesley never left the Enterprise.
  • The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Fury" features Kes returning to the crew, harboring some sort of Irrational Hatred for them.
  • Janice on Head of the Class came back for graduation (the final episode), despite having gone on to college.
  • Sharona returns for an episode of Monk in season 8.
    • As well as for one of the novels, aptly titled Mr. Monk and the Two Assistants.
  • On Smallville:
    • Pete Ross returns for an episode... With powers! ... and for Product Placement.
    • Subverted with Whitney's supposed return.
    • After being Put on a Bus at the end of Season 7, Lana Lang returns in Season 8 for a five-episode mini-arc.
  • Richie and Ralph Malph returned for an episode of Happy Days (with Richie coming back again for the series finale).
  • Young Mr. Grace returned for a very brief cameo during a birthday celebration for his older brother in the episode of Are You Being Served titled "Roots".
  • Randy returns for the last Christmas special of Home Improvement.
  • Sanford and Son: Good ol' Grady returned, then, seemingly not learning his lesson, did an equally short-lived spinoff after the parent show was cancelled.
  • Rose of Two and A Half Men manages to return twice. The second time offers no explanation as to where she came from and where she ended up after the episode, but that's not unusual for Rose... she's a little loopy.
  • Joel Robinson and TV's Frank both returned for the tenth (and final) season premiere of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
  • After leaving The Andy Griffith Show as a regular, Don Knotts returned as Barney Fife for at least one episode in each of the remaining seasons. Not quite often enough to be Commuting on a Bus, but still a notable variation of the trope.
  • The Ropers guested in a Three's Company episode following the death of their self-titled spinoff show.
  • Cynthia, the girl who liked Malcolm, on Malcolm in the Middle. She moves to Europe in that episode. Another episode she comes back more developed.
  • Happens with Sam, in an episode of Ace Lightning.
  • Power Rangers:
    • Jason, the original Red Ranger, left the series during the second season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers along with Zack and Trini. He would return two seasons later in Power Rangers Zeo, when he briefly inherited the powers of the Gold Ranger.
    • Power Rangers Wild Force features an episode with every prior Red Ranger up to that point (with Rocky being the only omission and Aurico appearing in his morphed form only) returning for one last battle.
    • Similarly, the show's 15th anniversary episode (in Power Rangers Operation Overdrive) features a mishmash team of past Rangers returning for a special two-parter, including Ensemble Darkhorse Adam, who hadn't been on the show in nearly a decade.
    • And again in Power Rangers Samurai, where one half of Those Two Guys, Bulk, is back for the first time in nine years, and as a recurring character rather than a short cameo for the first time in thirteen to fourteen years.
  • Basically everyone who'd been Put on a Bus to Mandyville came back for Leo's funeral in one of the last episodes of The West Wing. Ironically, one of the few departed cast members not to put in an appearance was Sam Seaborn, who would return an episode or so later, and appear in several more remaining episodes.
  • ER had Carter return for four episodes in season 12. Susan Lewis, absent from seasons 3-7, returned as a regular in seasons 8-12 before leaving again. In the show's 15th and final season, all of the departed regulars from the original cast, including the deceased Mark Greene, came back for guest appearances.
  • Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart's bus came back three times after the "UNIT era" of Doctor Who; "Mardwyn Undead", "The Five Doctors" and "Battlefield". Other buses that came back for "Five Doctors" included Susan, Jamie and Zoe (except it wasn't really them), Sarah-Jane and K9, and Romana.
  • When René and Edith of Allo Allo accidentally travel to London, they meet Hans, who had been stolen away by the Communist Resistance to England a few seasons previously. He now works for the British government and speaks English.
  • In Bones, Zack only really comes back once after being Put on a Bus to a mental institution, in "The Perfect Pieces in the Purple Pond". (He appears in two other episodes, but one is a hallucination and the other is a Whole-Episode Flashback.)
  • On SVU, Alex Cabot came back. And the Fandom Rejoiced.
    • But then she left again. And there was weeping and gnashing of teeth.
      • Recently Casey Novak also came back for an episode.
  • Mad Men gives us a few examples.
    • Of the former Sterling Cooper employees who didn't jump ship for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce at the end of Season 3, only Ken Cosgrove and Duck Phillips have returned.
      • Ken shows up for one episode, disappears again, and then joins SCDP after coming to a truce with Pete.
      • Duck shows up twice, both times not only hammered drunk but obviously far, far Off the Wagon. Ranting and raving, he fights Don, because Don is also drunk, and came in with Peggy.
    • Two other more minor former Sterling Cooper employees show up again; both had left well before the sale of Sterling Cooper to McCann Erickson.
      • Smitty Smith resurfaces at the agency of Don's (self-declared) rival's Ted Chaough (pronounced "Shaw") in "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword".
      • After being let go for drunkenly pissing himself at a meeting with Samsonite in Season 2, Freddy Rumsen reappears in Season 4, a member of AA.
    • Rachel Menken popped up in one episode after her affair with Don ended to let the viewers know she got married. Don uses her husband's name (Tilden Katz) to get into a seedy underground casino as part of Freddy Rumsen's send-off.
    • Midge (the commercial artist and the first of Don's mistresses that we see) shows up again in Season 4, having since become a heroin addict and prostitute.
    • Glen, the creepy son of the Drapers' neighbor, returns in Season 4 as a key player and Sally's friend.
  • On Eureka, you'd think sacrificing himself to save continuity would be enough to get Nathan Stark out of Carter's life for good. Nope; he comes back. Turns out he was just a technology induced hallucination. But this is Eureka, after all.
  • On Gilmore Girls, Jess apparently has several round-trip tickets. His whole slew of issues came together and he ran away from town, only to be grudgingly dragged back to town to reclaim his car and attend his mother's wedding. He leaves town again when Rory impulsively rejects him and then resurfaces in Rory's life again to see how she's doing only for Rory to sadly reject him again.
  • Nurse Shirley Daniels returned to St. Eligius twice after going to prison for shooting doctor-turned-rapist Peter White: once for an appendectomy, and once in the series finale.
  • More actress-wise than character-wise, but Rachel Dratch returned to 30 Rock for the first time since the first season for its season 5 Live Episode, this time playing a wacky foreign janitor. Liz even comments, "Haven't seen you in a while."
  • In Growing Pains, Luke (Leonardo DiCaprio) returns briefly in the final episode. Oddly enough, he didn't technically interact with the cast face-to-face. He simply spoke to Mike on the phone in one scene. He was only a part of the cast towards the end of the series so there wasn't a long time between his departure and return.
  • On House, Cameron leaves both Princeton Plainsboro and Chase. She later comes back to finalize her divorce from the latter in a nice way.
  • The actor playing Steve Rhoades left in season 4, but made 3 guest appearances in later years (2 in-character, 1 as a pirate).
  • Desperate Housewives: After leaving Wisteria Lane in the first episode of seventh season, Orson Hodge appeared once again in "Assassins". However, it was just for that episode and his storyline with Bree wasn't resolved, so it's unknown if he'll appear again in the show.
  • After being unceremoniously dumped by the network, A.J. Cook returned for the final episode of fellow cast member Paget Brewster on Criminal Minds, but as of April 2011, Cook recently signed a two-deal year to return to the show as a regular again!
  • In Boy Meets World:
    • The bullies' leader, Harley, was sent to military school near the end of the second season and almost immediately wound up being replaced by Griff Hawkins. Harley returns for one third season episode which pits him against Griff (after which neither are seen again).
    • During the last episode of the high school part, Minkus makes a return, lampshading the Put on a Bus trope while he's there.
  • Primeval: Jenny Lewis leaves the A.R.C. team partway through series three. She shows up towards the end of series four when an anomaly forms at her wedding.
  • Gossip Girl:
    • Georgina seems to have several round-trip tickets.
    • Jenny also returned briefly for a couple of episodes in season 4 after being Put on a Bus in the season 3 finale.
  • In Kamen Rider OOO, Akira Date departs in episode 38 to go abroad for brain surgery; but returns in the final three episodes to fight alongside his former apprentice, Goto.
  • On Charlie's Angels, Jill Munroe (Farrah Fawcett-Majors) returned for several guest appearances after leaving as a regular following the first season. These return appearances were actually contractually obligated, as part of a settlement to a lawsuit brought by producer Aaron Spelling against Fawcett over her early departure from the show.
  • How I Met Your Mother : Ted's first serious girlfriend in the series is Victoria, a baker he meets at a wedding. They break up near the end of season 1, and she's not seen again for 5 seasons. Ted finally runs into her again in season 7.
  • Dr. John Dixon on As the World Turns was written out without explanation after actor Larry Bryggman left the show over a salary dispute. Several years later, when the soap was canceled, Bryggman returned, remaining the last couple of weeks through the final episodes, with the explanation that Dr. Dixon had taken a position at NIH.
  • Happens frequently in the final two seasons of Friday Night Lights, with Lyla Garrity, Tyra Collette, Landry Clarke, and Jason Street returning for one or two episodes apiece after departing Dillon, and Matt Saracen for an impressive six, including the series finale. In fact, the only main character not to return for a sendoff at some point after their departure was Smash Williams.
  • Highlander did this with three characters. Charlie De Salvo left the series in late season 3, then returned in the second ep of season 4, where he was Killed Off for Real. Fitzcairn and Richie were variants of it. Richie was an alternate universe Richie in Duncan's visions, and Fitzcairn showed up only in flashbacks. Tessa did once as well, with Alexandra Vandernoot playing her in a season 2 ep in flashbacks and playing a different character made to look like Tessa via Magic Plastic Surgery in the main plot of the ep.
  • Suits has Trevor, who leaves for Montana to escape angry drug dealers... only to return at the end of the season. On learning Mike has gotten together with his ex, Trevor, being the good Toxic Friend he is, promptly heads to the law firm to reveal Mike's lies.
  • Presumably out of respect for Phil Hartman, Khandi Alexander returns as her character Catherine Duke (who had left the show in the previous season) in the News Radio episode in which Hartman's character Bill McNeal dies.
  • 24 had Milo Pressman, who inexplicably disappeared after Day 1, suddenly return in a major role in Day 6, his absence explained as him having been working in another CTU division. He is eventually killed. This caught several people by surprise since 24 is notorious for its rampant Chuck Cunningham Syndrome.

Video Games

  • Raelag, one of the main characters in Heroes of Might and Magic V, disappears in the first expansion Hammers of Fate — except for one mission in the final campaign, after which he is immediately put on a different bus which, this time, he doesn't return from.
  • Sam and Max:
    • Bluster Blaster, who left to Vegas with Bosco between seasons 2 and 3, returns in the fourth episode to deliver a note about how Bosco is stuck in Vegas paying off a debt.
    • And then Sybil comes back from her honeymoon one episode later.
  • Ammon Jerro from Neverwinter Nights 2 joins you for one mission in the expansion Mask of the Betrayer.
  • In the second Spyro the Dragon game, Elora was an important character. She's missing for most of the third game due to plot reasons, but appears in a cutscene toward the end. She however doesn't appear in any other games outside of the original trilogy.
  • Sonic Generations brought back several characters that hadn't made an appearance in a mainstream console Platform Game since Shadow the Hedgehog or |Sonic the Hedgehog 2006; Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors made a point of only including side characters that contributed to the plot, the latter only having Tails.
  • After long ago accepting that any characters not named Chris, Leon, Jill or Claire would never come back, Resident Evil fans were quite surprised to learn that Sherry Birkin will be returning in Resident Evil 6, apparently having taken a level or two in badass in her downtime.
  • Super Mario 3D Land was actually this to Boom Boom.

Web Comics

  • The Order of the Stick: As of issue 789, the green-haired elf that's been hanging around the Palace of Blood is revealed to be Zz'ditri in disguise. "Parody is protected speech".

Web Original

  • Suburban Knights: Suede left the site two years prior to do missionary work. It turns out he was taking a temp position as an Obstacle for Jaffers. He lets Team A go after 'defeating' him and assists them in the final battle.
  • Fallout: Nuka Break: In episode 5, a character from the movie, Red, returns to the cast ensemble as a villianess.

Western Animation

  • The Inspector Gadget Spin-Off Gadget and the Gadgetinis had this with the characters of Brain and Chief Quimby. Quimby was about the same, except Gadget is now working for a different agency, while a shell-shocked Brain has retired to a riverfront house.
  • In the last season of Johnny Bravo, the prominent supporting characters from the first season came back and the newer additions like Carl and Pops stayed as well.
  • The Family Guy episode "The Splendid Source" has Peter and co. encountering their old buddy Cleveland in his new hometown during a road trip.
    • Similarly, Kevin, son of Joe and Bonnie Swanson, came back in season 10 during Thanksgiving when everyone had accepted that Kevin died in the Iraq war. He actually went AWOL.
  • Boom-Boom and Spyke in X-Men Evolution. Tabatha gets kicked out of the Brotherhood by Mystique, and we don't really hear much about her until the X-Men go on vacation on a cruise, where they apparently invited her to come along (probably because she's best friends with Amara/Magma). She shows up again to help in the finale. Spyke/Evan joins the Morlocks and is gone for a season, until he gets his own episode a bit later on where he Took a Level in Badass and actually became useful, and again, he showed up in the finale too.
  • In the most recent episode of The Penguins of Madagascar, many, many of the characters that were shipped off to Hoboken came back, complete with evil clones.
    • Dr. Blowhole came back in a 1 hour special.
      • As well as Alex the Lion from the original movie.