The Chris Carter Effect

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"Every question met with another question. Never an answer. Only 'why?'"

Mohinder Suresh, Heroes

If the fans decide that the writing team will never resolve its plots, then they will probably stop following the work.

It's been said that no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the viewing public, but sometimes a show comes along that promises stories so complex and subtle that they'll make War and Peace look like "Frog and Toad Are Friends". If it's done right, then this is catnip to a certain sector of the viewing public, who will often give such a show a surprisingly long time to set up its plot arcs before getting antsy for a resolution. The catch for the creator is that, the longer an arc runs and the more complicated it gets, the more awesome its payoff must be for it to feel satisfying to the fans. It's much easier for a writer to keep kicking the can—piling mysteries on top of mysteries—rather than finish storylines. This trope was invoked in the British TV serial The Singing Detective, in which mystery novelist Philip Marlowe asserts that fiction, like life, should be "all clues and no solutions."

That said, most audiences are savvy enough to recognize a framing device when they see one. Plots resting on a single Driving Question (Where is the Sunflower Samurai? Who the hell is Mrs. Mosby?) are allowed some leeway; otherwise, the production team would be out of work and the story would end. The Chris Carter Effect happens when a work is wholly focused on twists, not building up to a satisfactory resolution—Or if the plotting becomes so bloated that there can no longer be a satisfactory resolution (see Ending Aversion). At this point, even the most ardent fans will start to feel jerked around, or at the very least, channel flip to a wrestling match.

Sometimes, the lack of a resolution is not the writers' fault: the network might have pulled the plug early or compromised the original vision by having it focus on more merchandisable elements or to keep adding to or expanding on the author's intended story.

See also Kudzu Plot and Commitment Anxiety. If fans are suspicious that such a show will even survive to tell its story, and don't bother tuning in, that's The Firefly Effect.

Named for Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files, which some people believe to be the godfather of this trope.

Contrast Fan-Disliked Explanation.

Examples of The Chris Carter Effect include:

Anime and Manga

  • The Pokémon anime seems to have no real set goals for the characters in mind despite having heavy references to Pokemon mastery and the like. None of the characters have truly achieved any of their goals as of yet. Thus, many fans have given up on ever seeing any of the characters' stories really wrapped up at any point in the foreseeable future.
  • Dragon Ball: Subverted. Although the manga's creator, Akira Toriyama, has stated several times that he was just making stuff up as he wrote each chapter, he actually managed quite brilliantly to solve most of them as time went on instead of leaving them hanging. Heck, even the fact that Goku had a tail was explained, and Oolong even suggested the theory that Goku was an alien a long time before Toriyama decided to make it so, giving the story unintentional foreshadowing.
  • There is, of course, the long running Detective Conan, which hasn't progressed its "plot" by much in 16 real life years.
  • Bleach is often accused of this. As of recently, though, it's begun wrapping up the plots and the major villain has been switched out twice now after being defeated. However, during the final arc, we were shown what happened to most of our missing Arrancar; Dondachakka and Harribel have been taken by the enemies who seem to be some weird combo of Quincies, Arrancar, and Soul Reapers, and Pechse and Nel have returned to be assistances to replace Uryu (who's leaving the team temporarily because helping hollows goes against his code as a Quincy). As of this writing, Grimmjow has yet to appear, and we might just get a few answers for the Off-Screen Activity we got.

Comic Books

  • Many of the plot elements related to the Spider-Totem introduced by J. Michael Straczynski during his run on Spider-Man from 2001 to 2007 gave readers a lot of doubletalk and mystical mumbo-jumbo, but very little in the way of concrete resolution, like exactly why Peter had to "evolve", why one cosmic entity wanted to bring him back from the dead while another thought he should stay deceased, the mysterious entities that resurrected Mysterio and Miss Arrow and what they wanted with Peter, etc. None of this was ever really explained.
    • To be fair to Straczynski; he probably did have some exciting, interesting direction to take the series. He probably knew how he would end it. It's not exactly his fault that Joe Quesada decided to hit the Reset Button via the One More Day Retcon. That said, it is his fault he didn't take the time to ever flesh it out during the six years he was on the title, which is a marathon by today's standards.
    • Somewhat of an aversion, though; the Myth Arc might have driven readers up the wall, but most people agree that the truckloads of Character Development for Peter, Aunt May, Mary Jane and others, and the otherwise high quality of writing, still make most of JMS's run readable.
      • Until, of course, they hit the reset button and flushed it all down the toilet. There's a reason that One More Day and Joe Q get most of the heat rather than JMS.
  • Spider-Man‍'‍s Clone Saga. Originally, the story was supposed to wrap up after a few months, after an already complicated narrative. However, due to the efforts of Marvel executives, the story was extended for another year, with plot twists being reversed constantly, and supposedly dead characters appearing, reappearing and then dying anticlimactically. The story finally limped to its conclusion with another plot twist that had almost nothing to do with most of the events that proceeded it (Norman Osborn was back). It should be noted that, when the saga started, it was Marvel's highest-selling group of books. The act of stretching it to the limit for so long caused sales to slump, and fans turned away in droves.


  • Robert Jordan's Doorstopper series The Wheel of Time spent so many books getting more and more complicated, that it seemed impossible for anyone to ever wrap everything up. Jordan himself stated that he would conclude the series with book 12 "whether it's 15,000 pages, Tor has to invent a new binding system, or it comes with its own library cart," since it was very unlikely that he could write a coherent thirteenth book. Robert Jordan's death shortly before finishing the last book sure didn't help matters. Brandon Sanderson, the writer tapped to finish the series in Jordan's stead, eventually decided that resolving every arc properly would take no less than three books, though he approached the project as if he were writing one book.
    • That said, Robert Jordan made it quite clear that he never intended on resolving every plot point, as he didn't want his universe to feel like it just ended abruptly at the end of the last book. There is much fan speculation on which plot points would be intentionally left dangling.
  • Daniel "Lemony Snicket" Handler deliberately exploited this. The theme at the end of A Series of Unfortunate Events is that not every mystery could easily be solved, not every question could easily be answered, and there are many mysteries in the world that simply will never get solved. Handler claims this was his intent from book one.
  • Remnants by K.A. Applegate. They spent the first ten or so books setting up a bunch of mysteries...and then promptly switch to basically a new plot for the last few books, with none of the questions answered. Granted, the plotline at the end was actually pretty good...but it's like the first ten books were wasted leading nowhere.
  • Everworld, by the same author as Remnants, is just as bad. Each successive book begins an entirely new plot and never goes back to answer any of the questions raised along the plot. The series doesn't even have a concluding novel; the twelfth ends with the two primary antagonists (Ka Anor and the Sennites) still alive and well after Senna herself gets killed off suddenly, and does nothing to explain the myriad questions raised over the course of the series, such as the identity of the watcher in the void.
  • Let's go for the Trifecta. Animorphs does it too. While the main plot is technically resolved, it's still got Ending Aversion. Plus, the Ellimist/Crayak stuff is still on-going, some of the info in Megamorphs is never brought up again, some of the pre-finale stuff comes out of the blue. Oh, and the ending introduces a new arc. Plus, there's that group of 'friendly' Yeerks, Ax's desire to avenge his brother...
    • Ellimist. What the hell was that?
  • The Neverending Story intentionally invokes this trope by starting many more story arcs than it intends to finish. One by one, they are dropped off with "that is another story, and shall be told, another time". This is also the last line at the end of the book itself. Of course, given the name...
  • This is beginning to happen with George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. The series was supposed to be a trilogy, but has ballooned to at least seven books. The first three are very well written and gripping whereas the fourth is much duller and slower paced and focuses mostly on sideplots with hardly any of the series' main protagonists featuring. The massively delayed fifth gets things on track a little bit (No doubt due to fan favourites like Tyrion and Jon returning.) but it's still very slow and Martin doesn't even manage to fit in the planned climax of the book.
    • Some fans are no longer convinced that Martin even knows how the series is going to end due to this slowed pace, but in all fairness the meandering of the last two books are because of them being designed to fill in a five-year time skip that was eventually scrapped. It does seem from preview chapters that book six will be closer in pace to the original books.
    • Martin is aware of this fear to an extent. On several occasions he's mentioned that he does know the broad-strokes of the overall story's events and more importantly has known the ending from the outset. Actually getting there however became more complicated than he realised. He's also stated that there will be no more new POV characters in future books. And half-jokingly claims that he needs to start killing off more characters in The Winds of Winter.

Live-Action TV

  • Named for Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files. For the first half of the 1990s, the fans were convinced that Carter had plotted an elaborate and minutely thought-out web of deceit and lies for his FBI agents to unravel. Forests of Epileptic Trees sprouted around every new tantalizing hint revealed. No reference was too obscure for devoted X-Philes, who cheerfully threw themselves into history, folklore, myth, science, or any other branch of human knowledge that seemed like it might shed some light on the story. By mid-decade, though, the Myth Arc story had churned along for years without really answering any of the questions raised. It had, in fact, mutated into a dense Kudzu Plot, and fans began to suspect that there was no intricately plotted story - he'd just been making it all up as he went along. (Carter eventually confirmed this suspicion.) This eventually went on into the finale which made promises of resolving the Myth Arc which not only fails to do so but also in the last ten minutes presents a teaser for an alien invasion set to occur in 2012.
  • Also by Chris Carter, Millennium is a good example of this. The show got increasingly bizarre and difficult to follow as it went on, and the end of the third season (the last one filmed, and for good reason) provided no closure at all. Each season had a different show runner(s), each with a very different idea of what the show should be and no one from above willing to set boundaries. After the cancellation, the whole thing was put into the laps of The X-Files team. This resulted in a Fully-Absorbed Finale for Millennium within The X-Files-verse that also failed to resolve anything.
  • The Chris Carter Effect seems particularly prevalent in television programs of the early 21st century. Sci-fi blog Io9 elaborates on an argument which postulates that this is a result of the proliferation of quality television programming to the premium cable channels. This has quite simply resulted in a greater quantity of more 'daring' shows, and has led to many amazing TV series such as Mad Men, The Wire, The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad. However, because it also led to Lost, which further revolutionized the use of extended Myth Arcs, many more shows have sprung up in an attempt to imitate its success by copying this format (badly), including but certainly not limited to FlashForward, V, and The Event.
  • Lost. At any given time, exactly half of its fanbase believed that the show's creators were making the next Twin Peaks and had no idea what endgame they desire, while the other half argued that the threads were finally coming together, and a satisfactory revelation was all but guaranteed. In the end, it's a matter of opinion how it all turned out. The most diplomatic way to phrase it would be to say that there were two groups of fans: those who thought it was about the characters and those who thought it was about the plot/mythology. The former seem to have generally been pleased while the latter are generally very upset and firm believers that this trope was in effect. Generally, science fiction can have an open ending as long as the fates of the most interesting characters are resolved. Unfortunately, on Lost, a large chunk thought the island was the most interesting character.
    • One reviewer basically described the end as the result of the writers admitting that they could not resolve both the characters and the plot—so they opted to resolve what they could, in an effort to minimize damage and please some of the fans. If this trope hadn't been in play, both groups ought to have been pleased.
    • This strip of The Order of the Stick takes a subtle jab at this.
    • In a Saturday Night Live episode, Amy Poehler said "ABC announced this week that it has renewed Lost for a fourth season. Said the show's writers, 'Oh, crap.'"
    • The Guardian‍'‍s guide magazine once had a feature on several theories as to what was going on in Lost: it's all a dream (Word of God denies this), Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory (Ditto, and basically disproven by the season 3 finale), it's an elaborate version of The Truman Show etc., etc., before reaching the final theory: "They're just making it up as they go along."
    • The actual mythology was planned out by Carlton Cuse when he joined the show midway into the first season, according to him, and recent[when?] statements have revealed long-term planning... some of which never took off, like Libby's backstory (thanks to the writer's strike) and Eko's major, four-season-long storyline (the actor asked to leave the show).
      • What's more, Cuse and Damon Lindelof (the two showrunners) also had to figure out what the existing mythology elements meant, things like the Monsters that were written into the pilot by a guy who would have next to no involvement in the rest of the series and just wanted to give the show a Forbidden Planet vibe.
    • In the fifth season finale: after leading the Others to the statue where Jacob lives, Richard suddenly claims that only Locke (the leader) can speak to Jacob when Locke asks if both he and Ben can go inside. Locke angrily accuses Richard of simply making things up as he goes along. This is likely a reference to one of Lost‍'‍s most famous criticisms in popular culture: the idea that (especially during earlier seasons) the writers had no long-term game plan and made things up with no intention of resolving them.
    • The show can be divided into three sections: the first season, which was mostly a case of The Chris Carter Effect; the second and third seasons, where the writers had the outline of a series-long Myth Arc but also had to do a lot of padding at the request of ABC, who didn't want their ratings darling to go away; and the fourth, fifth and sixth seasons, which came after the writers were given a specific number of episodes in which to wrap up the show and subsequently became a much tighter, more Babylon 5-esque in its long-term storytelling.
      • .... which unfortunately didn't resolve or even mention a number of once-excruciatingly-intriguing mysteries from the first couple seasons, making the Chris Carter effect more evident than ever.
    • Funnily enough, a promo from the show's last season is scored with the tunnel song from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. You know, where Wonka gets more and more freaked out because he has no idea where he's going?
    • The season six DVD has an epilogue on it which explains some of the left-over mysteries like the Hurley Bird. Ben even lampshades the issue of unexplained questions by telling the Dharma employees that even though they may have a lot of questions, they'll only get two questions answered between them. And don't get started on the fact that this short was a DVD-only exclusive...
  • In general, the works of J.J. Abrams often have this problem. Robert Brockway of put it best: "A creative visionary and genius... for approximately two seasons, after which point he cracks, panics and starts rambling on about magic instead of writing a coherent plotline." To a certain degree, even Felicity fell prey to this, as did Alias. It'll be interesting to see if the same happens to Fringe, or if he's finally got things under control. It's been doing fine so far (or at least seems that way), and it might help that a fair number of the episodes are already borderline ramblings about magic.
    • Walter Bishop did quote Clarke's Third Law word for word in response to a particularly bizarre case. There aren't really any limits set for Fringe to break, though.
    • Word of God is that they do have an ending and a way to get there, plotted over several seasons. However, said ending can be adjusted and deployed on short notice in case they don't get as many seasons as they planned for.
  • This trope is a suspected contributor to the failure of The Lone Gunmen.
  • Demonstrated failure of Twin Peaks. But really, what did they expect from David Lynch? Writer and committed Lynch fan David Foster Wallace opined in an essay that the second season of Twin Peaks was some of the best television he'd ever watched, in that it was some of the worst television he'd ever watched. If you watch it all in a row, it's pretty clear that it's one long nervous breakdown on the part of David Lynch as he realizes there's no way in hell he can fulfill any of the promises he made to the viewers with season one. The desperation is palpable. Executive Meddling was only the start of its problems.
    • David Lynch was hardly involved with the second season of Twin Peaks after Laura Palmer's murder was solved, as he was working on other projects. He didn't write or direct any of the next 14 episodes and returned only to direct the series finale. There's a consensus among Twin Peaks fans that the episodes directed by Lynch are the best of the series.
    • Lynch stated in an interview that the mystery of Laura Palmer's murder was never intended to be solved; and that the series was intended to be more of an exploration of the characters. Executive Meddling forced him to not only solve the mystery, but do so by the end of the first season; which left him with literally no idea where to go from there. Hence the reason he was so little involved in the second season.
      • Of course this often leads people to ask "What the hell were you thinking having the main plot be the police investigating a murder that you never intended to resolve while instead focusing on all the different characters? You can't have all this focus on the characters and not eventually have it revealed that someone did or did not do the deed."
      • Sounds like an inversion of this trope: a show's downfall caused by the resolution of a plot thread that was never intended to be solved.
  • Perhaps the ultimate example is The Prisoner, which posed lots of ongoing questions—Who runs the Village? Why did Number Six resign? Who is Number One? -- but ended with an utterly incomprehensible Grand Finale that answered none of them.
    • One of those questions was answered in the penultimate episode. Which one? Note what wasn't in the opening of the final episode because it wasn't relevant to the plot any more.
    • At least part of the problem with The Prisoner is that Patrick McGoohan conceived it as a 6-episode miniseries... then Executive Meddling caused it to be inflated to 17 episodes, almost literally at the last minute. The insanity of the Grand Finale is attributed to McGoohan's exhaustion/burnout at the end of the production cycle.
      • After the finale was released McGoohan said that the utter rage and confusion that the finale inspired was partly intentional.
  • Strictly speaking, The Pretender never resolved any of its over-arching plots. The show creators joked that a detailed master plan for the narrative was hidden "inside the pickle jar" and buried in their backyard. Actually, the writing sessions were becoming increasingly devoted to impromptu games of poker among the staff. This may explain why, though the exact circumstances and reason for series protagonist Jarod's abduction as a child remained unclear, nearly every character in the show was revealed to have uncertain parentage or a long-lost relative. Following the series' unintentional finale, two successive made for TV movies, both of which ended with Cliff Hangers, introduced more questions than answers.
  • This was pretty much what got The 4400 canceled. The long-awaited elaboration of the fabled 'Future People' was half-answered very late in the show, but then about twice as many new questions cropped up. The cancellation then abruptly cut off any hope of the rest of it being resolved. Damn shame, really.
  • Heroes‍'‍s first season was hailed as great, tightly-plotted and well-written storytelling, with a clear goal in mind. Its second and third seasons, though, were prime examples of the Chris Carter effect in action—the writing team flailing around, directionless, at war with its own continuity—and it's only started to re-establish its arc as of the fourth "volume." Unfortunately, the writers had envisioned each "volume" to be about a different set of heroes with a different set of problems to solve, but fans just wanted more cheerleader beheadings.
    • The fans actually wanted a resolution, but it's said that the writers got too focused on giving into the demands of whatever the message board consensus was this week and lost track of, y'know, the plot. And it got them Cancelled.
    • In their defense in regards to season two, they had planned a long, elaborate 2-volume (i.e. season-long) arc in which all the seemingly-loose plot threads would have come together. In the original ending of volume two, Peter wouldn't have caught the virus vial, and it would have been let loose in Odessa, causing the pandemic seen in Out of Time. Volume Three would have been about the pandemic. Claire's blood's healing properties were going to be used to heal virus victims, and resident Scrappy Maya would have used her powers to absorb the virus and sacrifice herself to save the world. Unfortunately, the writer's strike cut the season in half, and instead of waiting an undetermined amount of time to resolve plots new viewers wouldn't be up to date on, they chose to wrap up the season and abandon all planned story arcs. This explains why the plot seems muddled and full of red herrings; they quite literally aborted entire character arcs, causing most of the established developments in season 2 to become redundant.
    • It probably didn't help that they had a major writer and show runner change-up after the first season
  • We're getting there with Burn Notice.[when?] The second season ended teasing the same reveal it teased at the end of the first, and we still don't know much of anything about who "burned" Michael or why. It's entertaining enough watching Michael smack around drug dealers and loan sharks, but we could use just a little information here....
    • Season 3's story arcs verged on Random Events Plot; first, the Miami cops go after Michael, then Michael gets a new handler, then he starts working with an Ambiguously Gay British psycho/criminal for no real reason, and then a homicidal ex-agent shows up and goes on a rampage. Season 4 is trying to make something more concrete happen.
      • There's a reason. The season two finale ended with Michael slamming the door on Management, who specifically warned him that chaos would rain down on him because he'd destroyed the Miami branch of the group that had kept him safe. The Random Events Plot of the next season was the natural result. If anything, the show gained traction.
    • The show's individual episodes have been, far and wide, amazing; but no one knows how to keep the show good while fixing the premise. Think Gilligan's Island: how much fun would it be if they had left?
    • In the end, the identity of who signed the paperwork is not that important. He knows why they Burned him now.
    • Season One: Michael Westen is burned at the beginning, and the cliffhanger ending has the people who burned him finally contacting him. Season Two: Michael begins working for the people who burned him because he has no other choice, but at the end of the season he rains hell down on them, framing and killing several of them, and then meets Management and gets them off his back for a while. Season Three: Without Management protecting him Michael is vulnerable to old foes and new "allies," which at the end of the season results in him having to get back in touch with them to prevent bad things from happening. Season Four: Michael is working for the people who burned him again, except they've put on a kinder, gentler face, but he still works towards bringing them down and when he is somewhat successful he is welcomed back by the US government. Seems like a reasonable time frame, especially considering most burned spies would likely never get back "in" once a burn notice on them has been issued, and their fate would more likely be similar to that of Victor's in the second season. Season Five: We find out the last person in the organization, a psychologist who blackmails Michael into deleting files. Michael spent five seasons getting back in only to make it at the very point where he is compromised and should be burned.
  • Desperate Housewives features a single ongoing mystery for every season which is solved in the season finale. There's widespread suspicion among the fanbase that the solution to season four's mystery was changed halfway through after Marc Cherry decided he wanted to keep Dana Delany (one of his favorite actresses and the original choice for regular character Bree) on the show.
  • The rebooted Battlestar Galactica was accused of this on several occasions - the effect can be traced back as far as the third season, when the decision to largely abandon the show's carefully crafted Myth Arc in favor of a series of standalone episodes almost resulted in its cancellation (and eventual pushback from the producers to get the plot back on track). Still, the showrunners were open about the fact that they were mostly making things up as they went along. A series of open questions and mysteries were raised over the length of the show, and ended with handwaving and the revelation that God was responsible for many of the mysteries, and they may have been being literal in this. As a result of the series bible's publication after the show finished airing, fans now know that none of the plot points introduced in season 3, such as the Final Five and Starbuck's death/resurrection, were things the producers were aware of at all during the first two seasons. They'd exhausted their stockpile of potential plotlines.
    • The "Final Five Cylons" debacle, which dominated the show since season 3 began. Realizing that the gradual reveal of the promised "Twelve Cylon models" was boring, the writers broke their own established rules by making major recurring characters Cylons who logically couldn't be. One of them was married and had fathered a child; the cardinal rule about Cylons until then was that they're sterile. They handwaved it off by ham-fistedly retconning that his wife had an affair (after they dropped a bridge on her). To make it worse, they had already revealed that one of the Cylons was "Model Number Eight", and 8 + 5 = 13, not 12. They had to invent a backstory that there used to be a Number Seven model, but he got killed. The BSG writers didn't just apply Magic A Is Magic A to their work in the end; they fell back onto "divine intervention" to explain plot twists which, if you analyzed them objectively, didn't add up.
    • The "Death of Starbuck" ruse: in the first two seasons, the writers often boasted that they respected the intelligence of their audience and didn't walk them through plot points. At the end of season 3, with ratings dropping and the writers running out of ideas, they pretended to kill off Starbuck. Even in real life, the writers and cast were ordered to act like Katie Sackhoff left the show. The episode she was killed in bizarrely and obviously set up new plot points for her. She wasn't randomly shot or captured; she randomly flew into a storm due to a newly revealed religious plotline. It was confusing even then. Starbuck's "dramatic surprise return" was therefore predictable; writers who once said that they respected the audience's intelligence were now stooping to comic book deaths, though they insisted that this was a stroke of genius. All of this was supposedly related to Starbuck's "destiny," but they never fully explained (even in the finale) why Starbuck had to die and literally be resurrected by the Gods to lead the Fleet to Earth.
    • Made worse by the fact that the intro crawl text assures viewers that the Cylons "have a plan" which explains their seemingly bizarre and illogical actions. Eventually, the whole thing is hand-waved when a character says, "plans change". After the show is cancelled, a subsequent work called "The Plan" finally reveals the plan, though YMMV as to whether it really was worth it.
  • Carnivale on HBO created this in one scene. Early in the show, one of the characters has a vision of Ben and Sofie kissing as a nuclear warhead detonates in the background. Since the show took some pains to ground itself in the real timeline, this would put the vision in 1945. But the show was set in 1935, and the pace of the plot meant that some fans immediately concluded that it would never pay off. They ended up being right.
    • Knauf had planned a five-year time skip between seasons 2 and 3, which would have brought the show to 1940, with further seasons to bridge the rest of the gap between then and the Trinity test, but then the show got canned.
  • The 1980's War of the Worlds series was based on the idea of humans discovering that the aliens from the original 1953 invasion had survived and were now resistant to radiation. The first season of the show (while obviously lacking in special effects) built up a number of story arcs that were intended to be long-term: the humans working to discover the identities of the aliens and out them to the world, allies which made guest appearances (and then promised to come back in the future), an alien "invasion force" that was set to arrive in just a couple of years, etc. With the second season (and an entirely new production team), all the carefully constructed work that went into the first season was tossed out the window. Half the characters were killed (including the villains of the first season), several angles were simply forgotten about and the theme of the show even changed. When fans tuned out (which caused the series to end its run prematurely), several arcs from the first season were left unresolved, and there were more questions than answers.
  • This is probably the reason the 2007 remake of The Bionic Woman only lasted a season. The plot didn't last that long.
    • More likely, it was canceled due to the writer's strike. The series only had eight episodes, which isn't enough time to survive a hiatus.
    • It probably would've been canceled anyway, though, since the show started near the top of the NBC ratings stack and sunk to near the bottom in the space of those eight episodes. And it certainly had its fair share of creative issues, since there were three showrunners in those eight episodes (including one who was hired DAYS before the strike, and never got to write an episode), none of whom really seemed to grasp the storyline or characters.
  • Stargate Universe is going this way, continuing the same mistakes as its predecessor series. Rather than simply go the episodic, or mini-arc route, the producers introduce a half-dozen secret soap opera storylines at once, storylines that sometimes overshadow the genuinely dramatic plotlines on the show. This kind of thing doomed Atlantis to an early grave (Early? It lasted 5 seasons, admittedly only half as long as it's predecessor, but some would think that was a decent run for a series), let's see if Universe can hang on longer. (No.)
    • It's also very bizarre to state that Universe made the same mistakes Atlantis did given that it was very similar in theme and structure to it's predecessor series while Universe was a massive departure from that. Atlantis was very episodic for the most part and didn't have the galactic soap-opera problems that Universe suffered from.
  • Breaking Bad‍'‍s third season was admitted to have been written purely episode to episode by show creator Vince Gilligan. While the honesty was appreciated, the pacing of the episodes in the season was painfully turbulent from week to week, and there was certainly a lot of purposeless building of characters who just ended up as Red Herrings.
  • Glee is[when?] increasingly seen as suffering from this by fans, with plots appearing and disappearing at random.
  • If one were to look for an aversion of this trope, a probable candidate would be Farscape: the writers actually planned out many of the major story arcs, and major revelations actually came at a fairly good pace. The show was abruptly canceled at the end of season 4, after one of the most infamous seasons of Network Meddling in recent years, but the writers insisted that they had always planned out a fifth season. Finally, the Farscape writers got their chance with the "Peacekeeper Wars" miniseries, which was tacitly understood to tell the story of season 5 condensed down from 20 hours to only 4. The finale miniseries actually answered most of the major plot mysteries, and settled long-running story arcs in a satisfying way: the long-feared Peacekeeper/Scarran war finally happened, the devastation of wormhole weapons is revealed, and while they had to insert it in at the last minute, they did finally explain why Peacekeepers look so much like humans (they're a distant offshoot taken from Earth and genetically engineered to act as a race of soldiers for the galactic federation). There were some dangling plot threads, but the core myth-arc actually got resolved.
    • And now[when?] the comic continuations are wrapping things up even more, with storyline resolutions like Rygel taking back his throne that would have been physically impossible on TV. Of course, they also introduce a bunch of new complications...
  • Really one of the best subversions has to be Babylon 5, whose Creator made sure specifically that unlike Twin Peaks, his mysteries ("What happened to Sinclair at the Battle of the Line?", "Who are the Shadows", etc.) wouldn't take too long to learn the solution for, and that they would tie into the next mystery.
    • B5 isn't perfect, though. There are plot threads and questions, particularly from the first season, that sort of got lost in the galaxy-wide events of later episodes. Part of this may be because JMS had to squash his initial plans for the fifth and final season into the second half of the fourth season, but intriguing mysteries like the significance of Bureau 13 remain.
      • A lot of the unresolved stuff is actually resolved in the out of print and hard-to-find Babylon 5 novels, which are all considered canon as JMS kept strict control over them.
      • And intriguing as the Bureau 13 stuff was, B5 had to drop it following a threat of legal action from the makers of a computer game that also featured an organisation called Bureau 13. It was simply rolled into Psi-Corp as a whole.
  • The Event. Good God. It's like a drinking game of both characters informing each other of things we already know and ineffectively teasing us. "You know what happened last time!" Um, we don't... So how about you tell us?
    • As mentioned in a few other places, The Event was so bad about building itself up that some felt it hit tropes like this one before it ever premiered. Seriously, for months, viewers were subjected to the upcoming "event," often several times per commercial break. By the time it aired, many were so annoyed with the campaign they either lost interest, thinking it couldn't possibly live up to the hype it created for itself, or just didn't watch out of spite for taking up so much of their time.
  • The Killing is (probably) going to answer the central question of "Who killed Rosie Larsen?" at some point. Problem is, throughout the first season, fans started to feel that the show kept throwing out Red Herring after Red Herring... and when the first season finale finished with nary a hint as to who might actually be responsible, professional critics actually flipped their shit, with at least one saying they had absolutely no reason to want to keep watching.
  • Semi-enforced on How I Met Your Mother: Although the creators intricately plotted out certain subplots during each season in advance, they were never guaranteed more than one season at a time, so they were forced to keep their options open enough to be capable of making shit up for how Ted met his kids' mother in case they got cancelled. When they were guaranteed two more seasons near the end of season six, the show visibly hiked up the foreshadowing (mainly in the form of flashforwards and/or Future!Ted casually Jossing possibilities or stating facts about the future) of a far denser and more detailed plot in the later episodes of season six and the earlier ones of season seven. And of course, with the conclusion of the show at the end of its ninth season, enough threads were tied up that no one felt too cheated.
  • Supernatural is arguably heading this way. Since the showrunner changed at the end of season 5, fans in general have become increasingly less happy with the course the show is taking, feeling that the current showrunner has abolished most of the important plot threads and as of season 7 secondary characters that were popular with the fandom and arguably a large part of the show's success in previous seasons, and is now relying purely on a series of one-shot guest stars to mantain viewers. In addition to the showrunner's apparent insistence on writing out well-loved characters in favour of poorly recieved suspiciously similar substitutes, this approach has not worked as intended.
  • Doctor Who under Steven Moffat's control is divided between fans who think that the Grand Moff is laying threads in a genius fashion that he intends to pull together in several series' time, or that he's just making new shit up to get himself out of the implications of the shit he made up before.
    • In the previous incarnation of the series, Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy's tenure was marked by the Lungbarrow Plot, a brilliant, carefully crafted, multi-season story arc designed to reset the continuity of the series and re-establish the mystery of the title character. This really was written in advance, and the payoff for the audience really was there. Until Executive Meddling led to the show being cancelled early. The plot was published but never used in the series (old or revived).
  • Lampshaded in the expanded universe of Castle, believe it or not. On the Richard Castle website, Castle wrote an article about what he called a Ponzi Plot. He explained that if you don't eventually resolve it, you lose your viewers. This was posted a week before the season finale, where Castle and Beckett finally resolve their four-year will they/won't they arc by doing it.
    • Left still unresolved is the mystery of the Case of Beckett's Mom, which many fans have also claimed is an example of this trope. Some fans speculate that Andrew Marlowe's posting of the article was aimed not to explain why Castle and Beckett finally hooked up but instead to reassure fans that the Beckett case really does have a solution, that it won't drag on forever, and the viewers really will like it.

Professional Wrestling

  • Pro wrestling has its own jargon for this: "hotshot" booking. This is when a show is literally written as it is being performed, either because the writers aren't prepared, a wrestler is suddenly unable to work a match during a live show requiring an abrupt change in his angle, or because the bookers are trying to be daring and edgy. Hotshot booking rarely produces anything but failure, however.
    • Eric Bischoff was notorious for this during the Monday Night War. He would often rewrite WCW Nitro while it was actually airing to counter-program WWF's Raw.
    • Vince Russo became an even more notorious example during his stint as writer for WCW toward the end of the Monday Night War. Characters turned and won and lost titles so often that fans lost track, numerous angles were abandoned midstream (most famously, Stacey Kiebler's "pregnancy"), wrestlers would retire "forever" only to show up next episode (quick even by wrestling standards). There is a reason bad and nonsensical booking leads to chants of "Fire Russo!" even in promotions he's never worked for.
      • A lot of Russo's unanswered questions have become memes within the IWC, such as "Who Drove The Hummer?"
    • At WWE, the concept was put in writing as part of the company's "Wellness Program," which states that any "Superstar" fired for doping offenses must job his or her title/finish an angle in the ring immediately and without pay.
      • This was demonstrated in 2009, when Rey Mysterio was given a Wellness Vacation, and dropped the Intercontinental Championship he was holding at the time to John Morrison. (Which promptly caused some fans to complain about Rey not dropping the title to Dolph Ziggler, who'd been in the hunt for the title for some time.)
    • Injuries force a not quite as urgent example of this trope, too. Injured wrestlers can usually finish the match they're in (unless the injury is really bad), but they won't be back next week, and if they were in the middle of a storyline, you've got a week (if you're lucky) to rewrite it. An example from the WWE: in 2009, Edge and Chris Jericho had formed a tag team, won the Unified Tag Team Championships, and were just starting off an arrogant heel run with the belts...and then Edge tore his Achilles tendon, putting him on the shelf for the rest of the year. WWE Creative, backed into a pretty unpleasant corner, had Jericho cut a promo on Edge for having the gall to get injured during their title run; he then hyped up his new mystery partner (who was much better than Edge)...who he'd be debuting at the next PPV. This bought them enough time to actually get a new story together.
      • In that example, it actually worked out great, as Jericho's partner was The Big Show, and the team (known as "JeriShow") went on to dominate the tag team division for a good part of the year.
  • A subsect of hotshot booking is "hotshot" title changes - title changes that happen fairly quickly and result in a number of different title reigns, often for no real reason. Like with hotshot booking, this is done either to cover for an injury or to change an angle on the fly. Unfortunately, such title changes - if they happen too often - can "devalue" the belts (in other words, fans will stop caring about who holds the titles, and thus stop caring about seeing wrestlers compete for the titles, making them worthless as an attraction). These kinds of title changes can also become somewhat predictable if used very often; if you know the belt's going to change hands every other week, why even bother to watch the champion defend their title? Hotshot title changes are one of the many reasons WCW is now out of business, and it's one of the many, many, many, many, many reasons TNA is so reviled amongst a good majority of the IWC.
    • An example of a hotshot title change from 2009: Jillian Hall defeats Mickie James to win the Divas Championship on the October 12 edition of Raw. Her title reign lasts just a few short minutes, as Melina - just traded to Raw from Smack Down - comes in and wins the title in short order. (Of course, it was around this time rumors of WWE punishing Mickie for being too fat and/or behavioral issues came to light, which caused some fans to look at the hotshot reign as a punishment: rather than drop the title to Melina and look good in the process, Mickie dropped it to Jillian - essentially a Joke Character in WWE's Divas division - and had to watch while Melina won it minutes later.)


  • Greg Farshtey, the writer for Bionicle, refers to this as the "Sizzle and Steak" effect, that is, the sizzle is what lures people in, but, sooner or later, you have to produce the steak. Many Bionicle fans were unhappy with the series phasing out the fantasy elements and replacing them with very soft science fiction, especially the revelation that The Matoran universe was inside a Humongous Mecha, but as Greg pointed out, a major theme in Bionicle is people being wrong, and the truth will have to come out sooner or later or the audience will get frustrated.
    • Sadly, an enormous Schedule Slip, as well as the fact that LEGO considers Bionicle to be dead mean that the steak will be shriveled up and indigestible, for the sizzle is taking too long, but there are no plot resolutions in sight.

Video Games

  • The Legacy of Kain series seems to be suffering from a fatal case of Chris Carter. Eidos never really knew what to do with it after Crystal Dynamics stole it from Silicon Knights (and told SK to throw their carefully plotted story ideas for a sequel in the trash). Crystal Dynamics' next decision with the franchise, having multiple titles in development at the same time, with different teams working on them, did little to gel any sort of solid story. The meat of the stories after the first game seemed to follow immortal, nigh indestructible evolving vampires traveling through time and fighting extra-dimensional demons. The series' timeline spans thousands of years, and each additional game either flagrantly retcons and/or reset buttons the previous installations, including at least one cliffhanger ending that not only drew cries of the game being released incomplete, but wasn't actually resolved in the next game. It still could turn out to be one of the greatest series ever, provided they manage to put a bow on it. However, so far news from the developer seems to suggest that another sequel is unlikely.
    • Blood Omen 2 takes place entirely in an alternate timeline that was destroyed in the same game that it was created, and the other games ignore all of the retcons it made. If you ignore that one, the story is actually fairly straightforward once you understand the time travel mechanics.
      • That is very common misconception. Defiance actually bridges the gap between Soul Reaver 2 and Blood Omen 2, like how did Janos fall into the hands of the Hylden?, although unfortunately it didn't patch up all plotholes. (Vorador's resurrection anyone?) Blood Omen 2 still exists in the new timeline.
  • Some have accused Tetsuya Nomura of doing this with the Kingdom Hearts series. Each new game ties up the previous one's loose ends, but opens up twice as many new ones. Your Mileage May Vary on whether that turns things into one big mess, or just an ongoing series with lots of mysteries.
    • The series was deliberately designed with plot holes to fill because Nomura was unsure if it would really be worth it to make a sequel to the original game, and also because he wanted his fans to create their own theories about how things happened. (which he succeeded at). Nomura recently confirmed that he always will make plot holes and bizarre, mysterious elements in a game, and make up the explanations while working on the next game. Rinse and repeat. Again, Your Mileage May Vary as to how successful this tactic is.
      • According to Nomura the creator of Final Fantasy told him that he needed to make the game more complex or it wouldn't be able to compete with other games. Whether Nomura went way too far beyond this advice or if Japanese standards of complexity are different is another question entirely.
    • Dissidia Final Fantasy is Nomura taking this trope to infinity and beyond. The sequel promptly answered none of the questions left over from the first game, and only added a ton more. And the next game's a rythm game.

Web Animation

  • Parodied in the Homestar Runner cartoon Cliffhangers, where a fan asks Strong Bad to resolve all the cliffhangers; cliffhangers which did not even exist until that cartoon debuted.

Web Comics

  • Sluggy Freelance has been suffering from this problem for some time. During the first six or seven years of the strip's existence, artist Pete Abrams created a veritable arsenal of Chekhov's Guns... then stopped firing any of them. To make matters even more frustrating, Abrams often spends many months working on side plots that do not play a major role in advancing the numerous plot threads he already created. Things are beginning to move again, but at this point it's hard to believe Abrams could possibly wrap up the strip in less than four or five years, even if he created no new plot elements. Every resolution adds a few more questions. Arguably, though, Abrams has been lampshading this with the "fate spider" comics.
    • Several things have been resolved, others clearly advanced; what seems like a majority of readers (on the forums) are confident enough Pete can pull it all together given (lots of) time. He has done it before on a more limited scale, and proven himself a master of planning in advance. So, averted in that faith has not been lost.
    • Erica Henderson did a very good job parodying this during her guest week back in 2007, pulling at several loose plot threads and even introducing "Pete" as a Wizard of Oz type god.
    • The real irony? Back when The X-Files was still on the air, he made jokes at Chris Carter's expense about the need to resolve plotlines lest the reader lose faith or believe the writer is just making things up as he goes along.
    • A decade after the "fate spider" comics and he's still tying up loose plot threads and abandoned side-stories - or at least weaving them back into the main plot. We finally know who Oasis and Kusari are, and what the connections are between K'z'k and the whole "Oceans Unmoving" plotline.
  • After some 1200 comics, the 8-Bit Theater foursome could probably have figured out a clever way to defeat Chaos and win the day as they did with all their other extremely powerful foes, but the story instead had them depowered and sent off somewhere to muck about, formulating some kind of plan to go back up against the Big Bad. Of course the comic runs on Padding and Anticlimax, but still!
    • Of course, in this case, the Anticlimax was awesome. Chaos defeated by four white mages, which completes the joke set up some 1400 strips before? YES!
  • Gunnerkrigg Court appears to be going for some kind of webcomic record with this trope, with a new mystery added nearly every other page. As to date, few bordering on none have definitive resolutions.
    • Tom appears to be wrapping things up a bit and answering some of the mysteries (Jeanne's background, Jack's possession) while introducing the new ones. Resolution is happening, just hand in hand with new conflict.
    • Given some of the comments he's made and the way he's structuring the story, it suggests that he has planned the story out to be (probably) seven (in-universe) years long, each year being published as a book, following the British Boarding School model like so many, including Harry Potter (the most famous example), have.
  • There was some fear that this would happen to the venerable Goats would fall into this as the Infinite Typewriters Mega-Arc continued to add weirdness. John Rosenburg has assured us that it is all mapped out to 2012...despite the announcement of the strip ending afterwards. Granted it was pointed out that, if Goats was a person it would be time for its Bar Mitzvah.
  • According to Word Of God [dead link], this is why Concession is ending.
  • For El Goonish Shive, Schedule Slip trouble + Dan Shive's love for Chekhov's Gun + his own tendency to occasionally forget stuff he did/didn't do = we should probably give up on expecting getting answers to all of the questions. He has recently been trying to get things sorted out by establishing things alluded to and having situations progress, as well as having several Fourth Wall Mail Slot bits between stories and a renewed effort to keep the strip updating 5 times a week (his recent average is probably 4.5 a week, which is pretty good, all things considered), so we'll have to see how he does.
  • Wapsi Square has been headed quickly in this direction since Cerebus Syndrome kicked in, and especially since the Calendar arc was (semi-)resolved. Creator Paul Taylor claims that it's all part of an extended story that he plotted at the comic's start; but many think he's simply making it up as he goes. The fact that all of the subplots and storylines involving the various personal relationships were unceremoniously dropped shortly after the start of the Golem Girls arc, with no attempt at a resolution, would seem to support this opinion. A few believe that the increasingly bizarre supernatural recent events may indicate something of a Creator Breakdown.
  • Homestuck has had no less than 25 mysteries and unresolved plot threads at any given point since the end of its second act.
    • Now[when?], after two years, it has so many plots and mysteries both resolved and unresolved, that people need to read the MSPA wiki just to understand the newest plot!
    • Then again, it is set to have only seven acts, with Act 5 being longer than the others. So it's set to end eventually. Will the author be able to resolve all the plot threads??? Time will tell.
      • Word of God has clarified that while Act 5 should be longer than Act 6, it may not be by much.
    • It's sort of a joke in the fandom about Act 5 in that the story will focus long enough to resolve one plot thread... and then make you realize that it introduced three others to do it.
    • This is likely part of the reason why the plot became a literal Scrapbook Story near the end of Act 5. It conveniently separates the loose ends and advances them more or less simultaneously, while allowing the reader to see the connections between them.
    • It's notable that the actual end to Act 5 wrapped up most of the loose ends and was considered to be immensely satisfying. Act 6 seems to be working on the rest, but it's introducing more threads of its own... and it's being split-up into sub-Acts with Intermissions between them.

Web Original

  • Many of the plot elements from the first season of Lonelygirl15 seem to have been completely forgotten. Cassie, anyone?
    • Kate Modern is much more successful in this regard, but still left a few threads hanging at the end.
  • The Whateley Universe was supposed to run more-or-less in real time, and staying ahead of the actual date. But the series started in 2004 and has barely gotten into Winter Term of the first year of school, with some stories still stuck back in the fall. Now it's 2010 real time, and some fans are wondering if the authors will live long enough to finish the main story arc. It's been joked that the stories will wrap up any century now.

Western Animation

  • Samurai Jack never went home. Any confrontation with Aku ended in a draw (usually meaning Aku runs away before Jack can finish him), every portal back in time was either a trap from Aku or was destroyed before he could take it. There were a few allusions to Jack's eventual return, but the series cancellation and Mako's death have kinda put an end to that.
    • The recent[when?] word that the movie - which will presumably provide a series conclusion - is finally in production may put an end to that.
    • There is the episode where Jack is unable to defeat the bad ass guardian of the time portal because he is not the chosen one "…yet" (the audience is shown a vision of an older, bearded, crowned, Jack leading his own army to the portal).