Re-introduction of old characters and storylines

MithLuin

Well-Known Member
A major challenge of this project is that it covers over 10,000 years of history, a cast of thousands, and divergent storylines covering different groups of people.

Clearly, it will be necessary to drop storylines and then pick them up again later. Sometimes, much, much later. For instance, the palantiri are introduced in Season 2, we will likely see them again in the Numenor storyline, but then they will be lost/destroyed/forgotten until we get to LotR and Pippin picks one up in Isengard. And, sure, an attentive viewer might be thinking, 'hey, isn't that one of those...' before Gandalf identifies it, but we certainly can't count on that. Luckily, some onscreen exposition by Gandalf to the ignorant Pippin will get the viewers up to speed on that point - that's how Tolkien handled it in the text anyway, so we're good.

But this will be a frequent issue, so I thought it might be a good idea to take a look at how other long-running* TV shows have handled this. I want examples of some character or plot point being re-introduced after at least a season of not being on screen, and how that was handled (whether it was done clumsily or well) just to give us as much food for thought as possible.

Obviously, this is immediately pertinent with the return to Beleriand, the reintroduction of Thingol, Melian and Círdan after not having seen them since Season 2 Episode 6, the reintroduction of the dwarves (seen only at their creation in Season 1), and the return of the Green Elves, last seen when Lenwë met the ents (Season 2 Episode 4) and Eöl (Season 2 Episode 3, when he stormed out of the Great Debate). But it's going to keep coming up, and I want us to think about how we handle that.

* long enough to have achieved syndication

SPOILER warning, obviously!

So, first example: Bones (12 seasons total, 2005-2017)

Zack Addy, a regular for the first 3 seasons of Bones, was written out of the show in the Season 3 finale (but not killed off). Season 3 of Bones happened to coincide with the writers strike, so it was shortened and the handling of this season's storyline was botched for that reason. They were able to include him in one episode of Season 4 under his Season 3 contract as a result of this, though. They also brought him back for two other episodes in the next two seasons - one was an alternative universe fever dream, where he was just there without explanation (well, okay, at the end of the episode, it is revealed that the fever dream is based on one of Brennan's books being read aloud to a coma patient - so presumably, Zack's character is in the book). The other was a flashback to an event that happened before the Season 1 pilot, so he was there because he historically would have been. But at the end of Season 11, they did decide to return to his character in 'real time' and reintroduce him for one of the murder investigations, so that he would appear in two episodes of the final season. He hadn't been seen on screen in the show for six years at this point.

He had been a popular character, and the decision to write him off was loudly lamented by (some) fans, but he had been out of the show for so long that it was safe to assume that the majority of the viewers did not know/remember who he was - a situation the show writers were very cognizant of.


To prime the audience for his reintroduction, they had a storyline in one episode where someone was making a documentary about the team, and thus asking them a lot of questions about current events as well as reminiscing about history. So, they were able to get the character of Hodgins to talk about his old coworker Zack in this context in 11x18, before bringing him back on screen in 11x22. This covered the main points of Hodgins' close friendship with Zack and 'whatever happened to that guy'. The reintroduction itself re-established Zack's connection with Brennan.

Another example from this show is the kidnapper/serial killer 'the Gravedigger,' introduced in a very popular/well-liked** Season 2 episode - but the case was left unsolved. They returned to the case in Season 4, where they identified but did not capture the culprit. In Season 5, the suspect was taken into custody. And in Season 6, the Gravedigger appears on screen for a final time, when she is shot during a prison transfer. I would have to rewatch the relevant episodes to see how they brought the viewers up to speed in reminding them of the details of that case.

** It has the highest user rating of any episode of this show on imdb (9.2/10), and it's not a season finale and no one died in it - so that stands out pretty strongly.
 
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Haakon

Administrator
Staff member
Yes it’s good to consider options....
In Game of Thrones (Spoiler alert haha) the character Gendry disappears in season 3 and is gone for more than three seasons and is barely mentioned except I believe briefly in season five or something (and not seen). But fans of course remember him anyway because of the nature of the show and the story, as Gendry is a possible heir to the throne. So it’s possible to reintroduce him anytime without explaining who he is and most viewers will remember him.
(Of course a number of viewers perhaps don’t know and have to wait for an explanation but again, that’s something you expect from the show.)
I think show like the Silmarillion would teach viewers to be patient and expect reappearance of old and forgotten characters. At the same time the show perhaps needs a resource site with genealogy maps, names and pictures etc. Everything can’t be shown in the narrative.

(An alternative worth mentioning but perhaps not so elegant is the ‘previously on the Silmarillion’ intro variant, showing old characters who will reappear soon)
 

MithLuin

Well-Known Member
'Previously, on x' is probably going to be necessary, even just to remind of what happened in the previous episode. While Game of Thrones is likely the best parallel for what we are doing (non-episodic storytelling that is one ongoing saga), there are likely other shows in similar boats. I haven't watched The Walking Dead or Lost, but I imagine that has some similarities in that...the story advances, and the audience is expected to remember previous revelations (though they perhaps lack the sprawling cast of characters and diverse locations). I mean, even the animated X-Men show from the 90s expected the audience to remember the plot development for certain ongoing storylines - and reminded you of what you needed to know at the beginning. So, yes, I am counting on something like that for a little bit of jogging of the memories, but when we have a recurring character like Círdan (who we maybe don't see in some seasons), we need some in-story way to bring him back that makes sense.


The next example is, of course, Supernatural (2005- ?), currently in its 13th season.

Most characters only appear in one episode, though there are plenty of recurring spots, as well. Few characters are in 10 or more episodes (precisely 19 actors). Some characters may return after several seasons. Most impressively, a character who appeared in a single episode in Season 1 (Sarah Blake in 'Provenance') was brought back for a single episode in Season 8 (Clip Show)....and to top that, a character who appeared in only one episode in Season 1 was just brought back for an appearance in Season 13. Even the characters reacted to that being a long time!

Missouri Mosely's two appearances on Supernatural, 12 years apart.

The show is fairly notorious about bringing back characters just to kill them off. Ellen and Jo were recurring characters in Seasons 2 and 3. They don't appear at all in Season 4, and are brought back for two episodes in Season 5. Guess who doesn't survive that second episode? Of course, both characters later appear on the show - Ellen in a Season 6 AU episode and Jo as a ghost in a single episode of Season 7. The show is just as notorious about bringing back characters after their deaths.

Obviously, having them appear in an earlier episode in Season 5 (5x02) served to reintroduce them to anyone who had forgotten who they were, and thus the audience wouldn't be confused who they were in the episode where they were meant to bite the dust (5x10). Ellen's appearance [alive] in a later episode was one of many hints that this was some sort of alternate reality, so she just appeared without intro or fanfare, while the 'you're supposed to be dead' conversation was saved for later in that episode. In the episode where ghost!Jo makes an appearance two seasons after her death, the history of her relationship with the main characters is reviewed at a trial, so the audience is brought up to speed and knows why her appearance might upset the brothers (even if they didn't remember who she was). There are also flashback scenes of her earlier role in the show.


A recurring character such as Death doesn't need much of an intro. Everyone always reacts to his appearance with a mixture of respect and fear, and they call him 'Death', so....the audience can figure it out. His character quirks don't really need to be commented upon - he is simply himself each time. In each of his five appearances, there is a reference to food, so I guess they rely on that for continuity? He is often used for exposition about very big picture stuff - God, the beginning of time, stuff like that.

Death, one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, is introduced late in Season 5 (after the other three horsemen, so he was anticipated). He was given an awesome intro sequence. He later appears in two episodes in Season 6 - one to remind the audience of who he is/what he can do (and to follow up on the Season 5 appearance), and later in a key scene near the finale of the season. He appears again in the first episode of Season 9 (which is about a character's impending death, so...no surprise there), and is not seen again until the finale of Season 10.

This is how you see him introduced in that scene, after having been off-screen for two years. I'd say...they expect the audience to know who this guy is.

Another character who was brought back after a long absence was Lucifer. He played a prominent role in Season 5 (being the primary antagonist), and reappeared in Season 7 as part of Sam's hallucinations. But then he didn't reappear until Season 11, when they had reason to visit him in the Cage in hell. As a lead up to that, Sam has a dream in which his father tells him something about their current dilemma - Sam has a few of these visions, which add up to a message that he thinks is from God but is really from Lucifer.


Basically, they re-introduce the idea of Lucifer before his reappearance.

A minor character who returns much later with greater significance is Claire Novak. She is first seen as a young child in an episode of Season 4, the daughter of Castiel's vessel, Jimmy Novak. In Season 10, Castiel decides to look her up, and she has now grown into a teenage girl in foster care, angry at the world. They re-introduced the angel/vessel relationship and the way that wrecks the family of the vessel with the character of Hannah, and that gives Castiel the incentive to go look for Claire. Of course, when they meet, Claire shares her anger about how Castiel stole her father from her, which rehashes the backstory. Basically, there was enough time passing, and she was a minor enough character to start with, that they treated this as a new character introduction rather than a returning character. She just happens to remember the main characters on the show rather than meeting them for the first time. They also recast the actress, so apart from being a blond girl, she would not be immediately recognizable as the same character.

When they re-introduce a character who has appeared in a previous episode (but not too long ago), the characters usually make some reference to the content of that episode immediately, presumably to remind the viewers. So, in the third episode with the Minnesota cop Donna, they reference the case in the first episode she appeared in. In Claire's first Season 11 appearance, they reference the ending of the Season 10 episode in which we last saw her. These are conversations that are meant to sound like the characters jogging each other's memories - remember that person with that thing....yeah, of course. We are unlikely to have such casual dialogue in our show, so we'll have to come up with a more genre-appropriate way for the characters to say 'aren't you the one who...?'



There are plenty of dangling loose ends that could be picked up again at any time, though.

One such 'loose end' is the Colt, the gun that can kill (almost) anything, introduced towards the end of Season 1. There are supposedly only 5 exceptions to that, and after they try to use it on one of the exceptions in Season 5, it is literally dropped on the ground and never seen again...until Season 12. So, to bring it back, they have to explain where it has been for the past 7 years. History: http://supernatural.wikia.com/wiki/The_colt


Based on my intro, you can guess what's in the box, though that doesn't get revealed until the very end of this episode. The other weapon introduced here had not been seen on the show before, but as there are a shortage of weapons that can actually kill Lucifer, this one is quite significant for that reason alone. [Not that they go anywhere with that, but it *could* have been significant.] This is also the first name-drop of Dagon and Asmodeus, who will both later appear on the show, and the other names are characters who were killed in early seasons, a reminder that this scene is a step back in time. The audience has known that Crowley is king of hell for years, so that part is no surprise, but how he took the throne had never been discussed/shown before.

So, the most powerful weapon on the show has been sitting in the collection of a character who is out of the game for the past six years, and the audience is just supposed to accept that explanation and move on. We should have less of that, as our show's future plot is not a surprise to us, but we will no doubt get somewhere several seasons down the line and *really* wish we'd set up something better - enter the flashback sequence to set it all straight.


Another object that plays an important role in early seasons and then disappears, only to reappear later, is the 'Samulet,' the horned god amulet Dean wears around his neck in every episode until 5x16, when he discards it (well, except for the time he lent it to Castiel...and the time Sam wore it while he was dead...and the time that shapeshifter stole it....). Its significance was revealed in Season 3 (it was a Christmas gift from Sam when they were children), and its use is revealed by Castiel in Season 5 (the amulet can be used to seek God, because it will glow in his presence). It is finally mentioned again in the Season 10 episode 'Fan Fiction,' when the girls putting on a high school musical about Supernatural (really, don't ask) tell Dean that he should have never thrown it away. And then, in Season 11, it finally reappears after 6 years to - what else? - glow in the presence of God. God also mentions it before its reappearance.


There are a couple of continuity errors here. Young Sam claims that he got the gift from Uncle Bobby to give to his Dad. When Castiel describes the rare type of amulet he's looking for, Bobby declares that he has nothing like that. Bobby seems just as surprised as Dean is when the angel identifies Dean's amulet as the special God-seeking amulet. Likewise, when the character who is God is revealed, it turns out that Dean (wearing the amulet) had been in his presence multiple times in the past. And yet...no glowing had been observed. The show explains this away by saying, he's God, he can turn off that feature at will.

I think that the ubiquitous presence of the object, and the significance the show gave it, made it very memorable to fans. So, that when it reappeared, it was not forgotten. Tolkien has *tons* of significant objects in his work, so we'll have to figure out how to show them off and make an impression. After all, Dean wears a silver ring just as often as the amulet (ie, all the time), but the only thing he uses it for is to open beer bottles. So, you know...less significant.

Another recurring object (which is only explained at its first appearance) are the Carver Edlund Supernatural novels. These are introduced in (and are the central point of) the Season 4 Episode 'The Monster at the End of this Book', and certainly it is assumed that viewers have seen that episode or the fan convention episode of Season 5. Because the books reappear or are referenced at various points much later without much explanation. Crowley gets ahold of them in Season 8, Metatron has them in Season 9 (I think), Charlie reads them and discusses them with the main characters. There is even a progression from the published works ending at the Season 3 finale, while the unpublished works are leaked to the internet and take the story as far as the Season 5 finale. The characters learn this in one episode, and it is referenced in a later episode (the high school musical one in Season 10). And Dorothy Baum says "You have no idea how weird it is having a series of books written about you," which is meant to be taken ironically by the viewers who know about the Supernatural books even though the character speaking does not.
 
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Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
How you reintroduce characters depends greatly on the role you want them to play in your story, much like when you introduce characters for the first time. For example, if you are bringing them back as a main protagonist, you drop them into the first act with some establishing scenes that remind us who they are and why we care about them.

If they are an aid to the main character, you can bring them in when they become important. (If you take the Star Wars films as a series, Yoda becomes this. He is introduced in the second act of Empire Strikes Back, because his job is to aid Luke Skywalker. Once the Han Solo movie is released, Lando Calrissian will be this as well.)

Another way is to introduce them in the final act in a way that suggests they will be important in future episodes.
 

MithLuin

Well-Known Member
Yeah, it's pretty weird that we have a show without leads. No actor will be in all the episodes, and most won't be on the show for more than half a season. Some characters will have recurring roles. but scattered throughout.

Lots of procedural cop and hospital shows have characters to introduce who will just be in that one episode - but they are interacting with a team of regulars who are in every episode and whom the viewers know well. We'll have to work hard to remind people of who is on the screen, and not just by name dropping - context and reminding the viewer of the character's background will be necessary (to a point).
 

Faelivrin

Well-Known Member
When they re-introduce a character who has appeared in a previous episode (but not too long ago), the characters usually make some reference to the content of that episode immediately, presumably to remind the viewers. So, in the third episode with the Minnesota cop Donna, they reference the case in the first episode she appeared in. In Claire's first Season 11 appearance, they reference the ending of the Season 10 episode in which we last saw her. These are conversations that are meant to sound like the characters jogging each other's memories - remember that person with that thing....yeah, of course. We are unlikely to have such casual dialogue in our show, so we'll have to come up with a more genre-appropriate way for the characters to say 'aren't you the one who...?'
Once the Dwarves and Edain arrive, Elves can explain to them characters or items that they have never seen, or summarize historical events. The recipients of the explanation can be ignorant and genuinely learn something, or the explaining Elf can be condescending to a Dwarf or Adan who already knew that because they grew up with these stories -- as characterization demands.

Royal Elves and Dwarves should also have heralds who declare their names when they go to formally visit somebody, or when somebody formally visits them. If no herald is available they can declare themselves, as pompously as characterization demands. The iconography of Elvish heraldry can be used as an additional visual reminder.


EDIT: You can also have Mortals give an explanation of recent Human events or genealogies to Elves who don't interact with them often; as C.S. Lewis did in The Last Battle when King Tirian explains to the visiting children that Rillian has been dead for 200 years and Tirian is his something-th descendant (I forget the number). An Elf might remark "Oh, you look so much like your grandfather So-and-So," and the Mortal can reply "So-and-So was my great-great-grandfather, actually."

Dwarves can confuse both Elves and Men by naming their kings after previous kings (such as Durin) and then have to explain that no, this is Azaghal III, son of X son of Y son of Z son of Azaghal II. And then confuse them further by "explaining" that the king looks so much like his ancestor because he is him, returned. (Although with the Beleriand timeline so compressed the Elves might not have time to meet more than one Azaghal.)
 
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MithLuin

Well-Known Member
So now we have the Kinslaying, an event that we expect the viewers to know about and remember from the previous season. And the characters who were present during it are going to have a 'don't talk about it!' policy, while the characters who were not there will remain ignorant for a time. So, it will be this weird balance of reminding the audience without giving it away to anyone who might 'overhear' a conversation.


For another example from Supernatural, Sam and Dean spent a year apart after the Season 7 finale. They are reunited in the opening of Season 8, but with some baggage. Namely, Dean is upset with Sam for failing to look for him while he was gone. Sam thought he was dead; turns out, he was really trapped in Purgatory.

8x01

Dean continues to hold that against Sam for a long time. Sometimes he blames him; other times he gets insecure/clingy because he's afraid Sam would do that to him again (ie, leave him). Sam, of course, gets a bit of a complex about his brother no longer trusting him and feels guilty for letting him down. These things are all stated pretty explicitly in the Season 8 finale, but without much in the way of resolution. The brothers finally sort out their differences by the end of Season 10. The 'main' story lines are the Trials to shut the gates of Hell and the Mark of Cain, but this difference of opinion over how Sam spent his 'year off' without Dean is underlying all of that. And the writers of the show still felt the need to 'resolve' this issue by having Sam bring it up years later.

11x11

In order to have an excuse to have a conversation about an old grievance, they used an episode that relied heavily on flashback to set this up. Lucifer calls Sam out on some of his less than stellar choices in the episode before this one, which includes his 'year without Dean':

11x10



What implications do I think this has for Season 4? That...we'll need to bring up the Shipburning and the Kinslaying and rehash them a bit at some point. We'll need to find ways to make them immediate for the audience. Amras will be useful to us for this purpose. He's a living reminder of the loss of the Shipburning, and he will no doubt feel the need to inform the Host of Fingolfin what happened there and how his brother died. Turgon will also be helpful - I'm sure he'll find reasons to point out that the reason his wife is no longer alive is because of the crossing of the Helcaraxë and the betrayal of the Fëanoreans that lead to that. But the Kinslaying itself may be a little harder. No one wants to talk about that. No one wants to bring it up. And yet...Thingol is going to find out. So, when Angrod finally spills the beans, what story does he tell? And will we flashback to show the audience a reminder of the Kinslaying so that Thingol's horror/grief seems more immediate? How are we going to remind the audience that Olwë, King of Alqualondë, is Thingol's brother? Surely that will come up at some point before the Kinslaying (when Angrod or Galadriel is acting as ambassador).

These events are significant, and we've already shown them to the audience...but we have to make sure we write the reveals to the Sindar in such a way that the events feel immediate, not like 'old news'.
 

Ange1e4e5

Well-Known Member
As to what the Noldor will say, they would mention the death of Finwe, and that the Noldor pursued Morgoth to Beleriand.

Now, how will someone like Sauron find out about the Kinslaying at the Mereth Aderthad, where everyone will be trying their hardest to not let something slip out?
 
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amysrevenge

Well-Known Member
How about recycling musical themes? Play "Kinslaying music" in the background while people are brooding and avoiding questions.
 

MithLuin

Well-Known Member
Well....Galadriel *is* going to tell Celeborn about the Kinslaying during the Mereth Aderthad. So, while her story will focus more on the loss of her mother and her own conflicted guilt, she'll have to say enough for Celeborn to get the picture.

Not sure there'd be any opportunity for Sauron to eavesdrop, as I'm sure Galadriel would be extra careful to make sure that conversation was entirely private.
 

Ange1e4e5

Well-Known Member
Well....Galadriel *is* going to tell Celeborn about the Kinslaying during the Mereth Aderthad. So, while her story will focus more on the loss of her mother and her own conflicted guilt, she'll have to say enough for Celeborn to get the picture.

Not sure there'd be any opportunity for Sauron to eavesdrop, as I'm sure Galadriel would be extra careful to make sure that conversation was entirely private.
If Sauron does not eavesdrop on Galadriel, how will he find out about the Kinslaying to spark rumors?
 

amysrevenge

Well-Known Member
He doesn't have to. He knows about the ship burning, and that there is something going on between the Noldor, and that there is *something* going on in the background. "They are hiding something" is what he's spreading. "Why are they here? What aren't they telling us?"

His reaction afterward, when he finds out what they actually are hiding, wil be priceless.
 
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