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"Can't any one of your damned little Scooby club at least try to remember that I hate you all?"
Spike, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, making a heartfelt plea to his scriptwriters

You introduced a character on your show with a certain characterization. But lately he's been drifting off the rails, and you suddenly notice that the character you established originally bears only the faintest resemblance to the one you've got now, with no real justification for the change. You don't particularly want to change the show's dynamic, but you feel guilty about the inconsistency. What do you do? Give them a Character Check.

A Character Check is when the writer realizes character is no longer behaving the way he or she was first portrayed, and tries to cover it up by throwing in a scene in which the character ostentatiously reverts to form. Related to Author's Saving Throw, but a Character Check seldom leads to any lasting change and is not necessarily popular with the fans, who may have become attached to the "new" version of the character and dislike the brief resurgence of the old one.

Very common with Designated Villains or Jerkass characters who have moved into Jerk with a Heart of Gold territory; this sort of reminder of "how things used to be" is a frequent side effect of Badass Decay and Villain Decay. Also likely to result from Depending on the Writer. There is also a certain amount of Truth in Television here. Someone may have changed over time, but still fall back on old habits now and again. However, fictional characters are usually expected to behave more consistently. This trope may make the audience exclaim, "I Forgot Flanders Could Do That!"


Examples of Character Check include:


Comic Books

Fan Fiction

Live Action TV

  • Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a lot of these, with the most jarring and noticeable being the attempted rape of Buffy in Season 6. Only slightly less subtle was the scene in which he plays poker with other demons for kittens.
  • Sylar in Heroes was prone to these in Season 3, as the writers veered erratically between portraying him as The Woobie and remembering, "Oh, yeah, this guy was a psychotic serial killer in Seasons 1 and 2." The utterly gratuitous murder of Elle was a case in point.
  • Lionel Luthor of Smallville started out as the ideal of the Magnificent Bastard. He was cruel, manipulative, and gloriously evil. In Season 5, he started acting like a good guy for no apparent reason. In Season 6 the writers wanted to "slap [the audience] in the face" with a reminder of who he used to be, so they had him blackmail Lana into marrying Lex. Then, sad to say, he went back to being a good guy.
  • Sawyer from Lost started out as the resident Jerkass with occasional glimpses of a heart of gold as Season 1 progressed, and midway through Season 2 he was moving to outright heroism, but he still had occasional moments where he would remind everyone that he was a jerk, most notably in the episode "The Long Con" in which he performed an elaborate con to get posession of the castaways' guns. Charlie asks Sawyer why he did it, and his response is that he's "not a good person. Never did a good thing in my life." This happens with Sawyer throughout the newer seasons as well, mostly because the writers can't seem to keep Sawyer in outright Jerkass territory due to the fact that he's one of the most popular characters.
  • In MASH, the whole Margaret arc. She went from Hot Lips to Margaret. At first there was some homage paid to Hot Lips, then the writers just gave up.

Video Games

  • In Marathon 2, Durandal was far less of a nutjob than the first game. Still, he does briefly stop to remind you that "If you insist on stumbling around when our time here is limited, I may just decide that you're not all that special after all and teleport you out into space. Probably justified in that he was going through the early stages of Rampancy in the first game (which includes a "psychotic anger" phase), and by the second game has calmed down and stabilized a great deal.

Web Comics

  • In Homestuck, many characters had drifted to being more serious, as the events of Act 5 became very stressful and worrisome. This meant characters were less prone to cracking jokes, and more prone to simple kindness, depression, anger, etc. After a year Time Skip in Act 6 however, they have been shown to act more similarly to their original characterization, with their new characterization still lingering however. The most notable characters this has occurred with are John, Dave, and Karkat, though it has occurred with everyone affected by the Time Skip to some extent, with exception to Terezi.

Western Animation

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