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Reset Button
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Reset Button

The Reset Button effect is a plot device employed in a number of science-fiction television series. 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 (e.g. by revealing that it was all a dream by one of the characters), or somehow prevents it all from happening in the first place (e.g. by time travel, i.e. having a character travel back to the beginning of the episode and make a change to prevent the storyline of the episode from occurring).

The various Star Trek series, but most notably so , have provided many prime examples. Sometimes the writers like 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.

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 Year of Hell. Another example is the final television episode of . 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.

Many fans feel frustrated by reset-button stories, especially when the reasons for reverting the change are not the quality of the series, per se, but some external reason – such as logistical production concerns. However many writers of the original series and the Next Generation, preferred a "reset button" over a continuous "story arc", feeling that a story arc episode does not stand up on its own as well.

See also