Reset button technique

From Academic Kids

The Reset Button effect is a plot device employed in a number of science-fiction television series, comic books, and generally any episodic story. The script writers for various episodes sometimes like to toy with extensive changes to the fictional universe that would affect the continuity of subsequent episodes, so they place a plot twist at the end of the episode which, in effect, undoes all the happenings of the episode. This is often obvious (some say offensive) in comic books when the cover features an apparent giant event affecting continunity.

Continuity-wise, there are two types of television show: serial and episode-by-episode. In serial shows, each episode not only follows but builds on previous material, and so the RBT is not needed (although it can still be used). In episode-by-episode works, the RBT is necessary to eliminate dangling plot threads. Soap operas are almost universally serials; toons and sitcoms are almost universally episode-by-episode.


The various Star Trek series, but most notoriously so Star Trek: Voyager, have provided many prime examples. Sometimes the writers liked to kill off or significantly alter characters or circumstances but don't want to make the change permanent so a semi-casual viewer doesn't have trouble keeping up, or because the actor whose character has died is still on the payroll. Another example occurs when the writers do not wish the story they have told to have any permanent effects on the canon. This especially happens in a series like Star Trek because almost every episode is written by a different writer, and it would therefore be difficult to coordinate rapid changes to the overall continuity.

Regardless of what happens in the span of one episode, by the end of that episode, everything is as it was at the beginning. One of the most often quoted examples of such an episode is the Star Trek: Voyager episode Year of Hell, where the reset is an explicit part of the plot, as time travel causes the entire events of the episode to have never happened. Another example is the final television episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Star Trek: Voyager so egregiously used this plot device that the ship is sometimes referred to by fans as the "HMS Reset Button".

However, the idea of a return to the status quo ante is not original to Star Trek; Shakespeare scholars have recognized it as a regular device of his comedies, and it is in fact a standard literary device in general. It is also easily discovered in most sitcoms, with Gilligan's Island being a particularly notorious example: nothing the castaways do jeopardizes the continuation of the series, as nothing they do actually succeeds in getting them off the island. The television show Dallas also famously used a variation of this device, in which an entire season of the show, including the death of a major character, was written off as a dream.

Early episodes of The Simpsons mocked the restart button by having Mr. Burns each episode not remember Homer even though Burn's assistant Smithers reminds him of Homer's previous actions. Sometimes the show would explain at the end of an episode why Mr. Burns doesen't remember Homer in the next, such as having Mr. Burns fall out a window and forget most of the episode's events, or sometimes the episode would not have Burns forget at the end only to have forgotten by the next episode. This has since been mostly abandoned on the show.

Fan reaction

Many fans feel frustrated by reset-button stories, especially when the reasons for reverting the change are not driven by plot or character, but some external reason – such as logistical production concerns. However many writers of "Star Trek" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation", preferred a reset button over a continuous "story arc", feeling that a single story arc episode does not stand up on its own as well, and that a major twist or resolution mid-series would be an example of jumping the shark. A major exception was the death of Tasha Yar.

See also


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