Charts & Graphs

The Plot Thickens

Shocking TV story lines and their precursors.

Trope Once Upon a Time Prime Time
Impostor among us In 1556 a man claiming to be the long- missing Martin Guerre appeared in a French village. Guerre’s wife accepted the man’s identity, and went on to have two more children with him. Guerre’s uncle, however, had doubts and took him to court three years later. During the trial the real Martin Guerre returned, and the impostor was hanged. The American soap opera Days of Our Lives in 1986 introduced an amnesiac character named John Black, who comes to believe that he is a surgically altered Roman Brady, a character who had been shot two years earlier and was presumed dead. Five years later the surprise return of the real Roman Brady forces Black to seek out his own identity once more.
Evil twin In a thirteenth-century Arthurian legend, Guinevere’s identical half sister schemes to take the queen’s place. Tricked by a love potion, King Arthur rejects Guinevere and casts her out of the kingdom in favor of the sister. The true Guinevere returns to Camelot after her sister confesses to the ruse on her deathbed. A chance meeting between the wealthy Estrella de Rossi and Virginia, a poor girl who looks remarkably like her, sets the stage for the 1986 Venezuelan telenovela La Intrusa. Wanting to shirk family and business responsibilities, Estrella forces Virginia to take her place and then leaves on a yearlong solo vacation.
It was all a dream Upon waking from a nap, the fourth-century-bc Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi wondered whether he was a man who had just dreamed of being a butterfly or a sleeping butterfly now dreaming of being a man. In 1986 the television show Dallas revealed that a whole season’s plot—including the death of a major character—was entirely a dream experienced by character Pamela Ewing.
Accidental incest In Sophocles’ fifth-century-bc tragedy Oedipus Rex, the titular king of Thebes learns that the old man he had killed on the road years earlier was Laius, the city’s previous king, whose widow, Jocasta, Oedipus has since married. The discovery leads Oedipus to realize that Laius and Jocasta are his birth parents, and, horrified, he blinds himself. The 2002 Korean soap opera Winter Sonata features a young man named Joon-sang who, while on a quest to find his father, falls for a girl named Yuu-jin. When his mother disapproves of the relationship, Joon-sang comes to suspect that he and Yuu-jin might be half siblings, but before he can break the news to her, he loses his memory in a car accident.
Scheming mother-in-law In Charles Perrault’s 1697 telling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, the prince secretly marries the title character after she awakens. Years later, when the prince’s mother, an ogre, learns of the union, she orders the cook to serve her grandchildren and daughter-in-law for dinner. The cook hides the royal family and serves lamb and venison instead. When the middle-aged Savita fails to persuade her son Mihir not to marry the penniless Tulsi in the 2000 Indian soap opera Because a Mother-in-Law Was Too Once a Daughter-in-Law, she decides to make life as difficult as possible for the couple. Twenty years later Savita is murdered and, although the women have long since reconciled, Tulsi becomes the prime suspect.
Fake pregnancy After Gilbert de Clare, the earl of Gloucester, died childless at the age of twenty-three in 1314, his widow, Maud de Burgh, claimed to be pregnant with a son to prevent his sisters from inheriting the estate. She maintained the ruse for three years, insisting that the birth was being “delayed by nature.” During the 2011 first season of Magnificent Century, a Turkish drama about the life of Süleyman the Magnificent, the concubine Roxelana claims to be pregnant to avoid dismissal from the harem. To her surprise, the doctors who examine her discover she is indeed pregnant. She soon gives birth to the sultan’s son Mehmed.