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I think Anton Chekhov just committed suicide with his gun.
The Comic Irregulars, Darths and Droids #240

A plot element is given sufficient play and attention over the course of a season that the audience is certain that The Law of Conservation of Detail is at work, promising a payoff of some kind. Then, inexplicably, the plot element is abandoned, forgotten or explained away.

The Red Herring Twist is a story telling tool designed to distract the audience from the primary plot. It almost always goes hand in hand with a twist-ending. It most commonly pops up in murder mysteries when the story teller does not want the audience to guess the identity of the killer too soon so uses plot elements to suggest that an innocent character may be guilty. If a plot arc is abandoned because of lazy writing of executive meddling then it is not a Red Herring Twist, but an Aborted Arc.

Compare Trapped by Mountain Lions, Left Hanging, Kudzu Plot, Fauxshadow, They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot, Cliffhanger Copout.


Examples:

Anime

  • The GS Ball in Pokémon was carried by Ash throughout the Orange Islands arc, into Johto, was given to Kurt to study... and was then never seen again. In the Japanese version of Pokémon Crystal, the GS Ball is used to lure Celebi, a legendary Pokémon, which the player then has a chance to capture. No such event occurs or is alluded to in the TV series, however. Celebi appears three times in the anime (once in the fourth movie, once in a "Chronicles" side story episode, and once in an actual episode.)
    • Some fans thought it contained a legendary Pokémon, like Mew or Celebi. Mew because Mewtwo was seen escaping from a lab earlier and in the movie Mew's the only Pokémon that really stands a chance against it. Celebi because it was the new, ultra special can-only-be-downloaded-at-special-Nintendo-events Pokémon of the Gold/Silver games. Also, the GS ball was, of course, colored gold and silver.
    • A recent interview with a storyboard artist of the anime revealed that the GS ball was originally going to be used in an episode with Celebi, but then they decided that they would rather have a movie with Celebi without the GS ball, so it was dropped and never mentioned again.
  • The Abandoned Dorm in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX. A huge plot point in Season 1, with Fubuki Tenjoin having disappeared there. After his rescue, he makes a few vague references to the place, but has amnesia as far as what took place there. It remains irrelevant for Seasons 2 and 3. In Season 4, it's revealed that the place was the site of a ritual used to summon the embodiment of Darkness itself. It's also stated off-handedly that the other students that disappeared there returned. However, no further details are given, and the building ends up being destroyed during the course of the season. So it's technically resolved, but only vaguely.
  • In Marchen Awakens Romance, early episodes contained foreshadowing about a mysterious and shadowy Thieves' Guild, which conspired to steal the main character's mystical weapon Babbo. Shortly afterward, after the author changed his mind, someone from the Chess Pieces stepped into the Thieves' Guild hideout and unceremoniously wiped them out. I suppose you could call that closure, but only on a technicality.
  • The beginning of Senki Zesshou Symphogear foreshadowed Hibiki's death at the start of the first episode. Even after singing her Ultimate Song, she comes back at the very end alive and well.

Film

  Wow, there are shapeshifters in the Star Wars universe! We've been shown that fact quite explicitly. Surely this will become important later in the plot. Only it never does.

Live Action TV

  • An infamous Red Herring Twist is in Twin Peaks, where two brothers (Ben and Jerry) who owned the hotel, suddenly became obsessed with a miniature Civil War battlefield. Week after week they punished us with that one. Then, as is often the case with a Red Herring Twist, it just mysteriously disappeared.
    • Twin Peaks was the exception to the frustration rule, however, because it was in fact almost nothing but an endless series of Red Herring Twist(s) strung together by other devices (particularly halfway through the second season). It became a kind of sport to watch how far the writers could go before the show completely self-destructed. It never really did and even spawned a movie that tied up a few loose ends and some all new Red Herring Twist(s).
  • Carmela Soprano's dalliance with Furio was pretty much a Red Herring Twist. There have been others on The Sopranos and seems to be its only flaw.
    • How? It forced him to flee the United States and spend the rest of the show in hiding.
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm's third season arc had Larry David opening a restaurant with his celebrity friends. The restaurant was never brought up again.
  • Teri Bauer's amnesia in the first season of 24 served no narrative purpose other than giving Teri a reason to be on-screen for a few hours, and is considered by many of the show's fans to be the one significant flaw in an otherwise outstanding season (other than the very existence of Kim Bauer, that is).
    • Also in 24, an assassination attempt is made on David Palmer, who falls to the ground, dying, in the closing seconds of season two. Season three takes place three years later and has nothing to do with this event. Season two's plot was continued in a 24 video game, but, as it was only available on Playstation 2, many fans of the show never learned of it.
  • At the end of Alias's 4th season, Jack Bristow tells Irina Derevko that she will enjoy getting to know Nadia (her daughter, supposedly fathered by Arvin Sloane while she was undercover as Laura Bristow, Jack's wife), because she is extraordinary. Irina pauses and then asks "I wonder who she got that from?", which fans took as a hint that Nadia was in fact Jack's daughter. This was was never touched upon again during the 5th and final season.
  • The mysterious conspiracy that dominated the subplots of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation; it first appeared in the episode "Coming of Age", and was ended on a cliffhanger in the episode "Conspiracy", both dealing with suspicions of a subversive force taking over the Federation. While "Conspiracy" identified and eliminated the threat, it also left open the possibility of a future invasion, by ending with a homing beacon being sent out by the invading aliens. This whole thing was meant to be a prelude to what we now know as the Borg, but thanks to changes to the Borg's design and story structure, this never came to pass, and the whole ordeal was never touched upon in-series again.
  • While Lost contains many, many apparent examples of this trope that are actually referenced in later seasons (sometimes in blink-or-you'll-miss-it moments), the writers did seem to have a few too many plot strands to properly address everything. On the other hand, some things may have been deliberately left unanswered. We never found out the significance of Walt's special ability, or what the "magic box" was that transported Locke's father to the island, or what Alvar Hanso's deal was. Or why The Others wiped out the Dharma Initiative (though we can conclude that Jacob wasn't responsible because it's revealed in season 6 that Jacob never ever gave a direct order to the Others). Or what the Smoke Monster's real name was.
    • Ben says later that the "magic box" was only a metaphor, based on what Cooper (Locke's father) tells Sawyer the Others kidnapped him (not surprising, they have plenty of presence off-Island). The Others wiped out the DHARMA Initiative because the treaty had failed and both sides were preparing to take care of the other, the Others simply managed to act faster. Finally, in the show, Alvar Hanso seems to only exist to serve as an explanation of how DHARMA got funded, the only thing that suggests there's more to him is the LOST Experience, which isn't really a part of the show's canon from what we can tell.
  • Babylon 5 is notorious for this. The Talia winters story arc involving gaining telekinetic powers that ended up going nowhere when the character was Put on a Bus and died there.
    • Also the Sinclair story arc was aborted when the actor left the show as a main character, although he did come back for a cameo to wrap up his own story which had been given so much previous build-up that it would've been impossible to abandon. To the credit of the writers, any Red Herring Twist on the show was a result of unforseen problems with the actors and they did their best to continue the main plot and events, only told slightly differently from the original vision and sometimes with different characters in the same role as the previous ones.
      • The director actually anticipated that such events might occur, so he always wrote "trap doors" that would allow him to remove characters from the story without interuppting the flow of the story. On occasion, this also means pulling old characters back into the story after their initial absence. The Talia Winters case was the most notable.

Literature

  • In A Series of Unfortunate Events, the all-important "sugar bowl" is introduced in the tenth book, The Slippery Slope. All the bad guys want it, and all the good guys need to protect it. But what the heck is it? It's never explained or even vaguely hinted at, and is promptly forgotten after its purpose as a MacGuffin is done. Actually, the series does this with several plot points, but this is one of the most noticeable ones.
    • This was very likely intentional, so as to demonstrate that "there will always be mysteries in the world." It helps that the author himself is a character, and thus we only learn what he knows.
      • Oh no. We learn far, far less than what the narrator knows. He knows both what is in the sugar bowl and why the sugar bowl is so very important. But no. String readers along for thirteen books and then decide that there'll always be mysteries in the world.
      • It's implied to be a recording device that contains evidence of the villains' crimes at one point - either in the author's unauthorized biography (which is a large amount of cryptic supplementary material) or in one of the later books.
  • In Shogun, we find out that Yabu's massuer Suwo holds a grudge against his master, having been the student of Yabu's arch-enemy. Bafflingly, after this is brought up it's never referenced again, in a book that otherwise does a great job keeping track of the massive amount of plots and counter-plots going on.
  • In the Discworld novel Going Postal, it is explicitly and quite obviously declared that Mr. Pump can perfectly imitate any voice he's ever heard, which comes up when he delivers a warning message from Vetinari. Despite all logic this does not come up later. The entire book is full of details and facts which don't affect the course of the plot, but most of the rest can be attributed to world-building and Moist's quest to figure out how to kill a golem, but this one has no justification at all.
    • ...How could that have been used? Moist was smart enough not to say anything incriminating around Mr. Pump for him to repeat, and it's not as if a ten-foot two-ton golem could perform any kind of subterfuge, no matter how perfectly he can mimic voices.
    • It was more to show just how much of a Badass Vetinari is, by showing that he had already planned for Moist to try and trick him. The fact that Mr. Pump can imitate any voice he's heard is just there so that Moist (and the readers) know for sure it's Vetinari.

Video Games

  • In Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic manages to pull off a Chaos Control - a technique only Shadow is supposed to know - and the game heavily implies that this is due to some connection between Sonic and Shadow. What connection is that? Dammed if we'll ever know, because Sonic Team seems to have completely forgotten about it, making the incident look like a poorly covered up Deus Ex Machina in hindsight.
    • It does? Really, it just seemed like Sonic was thinking "if Shadow can do it, maybe I can to," and at the last minute was able to do it. I kind of figured it had something to with having superspeed. Or, y'know, being the hero.
  • In Heavy Rain, player-character Ethan Mars blacks out at one point with an origami figure in his hand, the calling card of the local Serial Killer. It's mentioned twice after, but otherwise it's never explained. The actual explanation was going to be a supernatural connection to the real serial killer, who isn't Ethan, but at some point the decision was made to drop anything supernatural.
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