True Blood is dipping into that time-honored well of storytelling nonsense: amnesia, also known as the most convenient mental disorder. What better way to undo character development, pad out a plot, or force an unlikely relationship? In True Blood’s case, it’s fan-favorite Eric who’s been conveniently mind-wiped, in order to facilitate scenes of him flirting with Sookie and frolicking in a pond, pretending to be a sea god. But as much as we mock True Blood, it’s in good company. Despite widespread disdain for the amnesia plot, writers turn to tales of conveniently forgotten identity embarrassingly often. Here are some examples of the best, weirdest, and most infamous uses of amnesia on popular television. Though we might have forgotten some.
Teri’s brief bout of amnesia in Season One of 24 became infamous as the most absurd plot twist in 24’s storied history of absurd plot twists. (Remember that time that Kim got stuck in the woods with the cougar?) First, Teri and her daughter Kim are kidnapped, then, when Teri thinks that Kim is dead, she loses her memory. Later, Teri is attacked at home, and miraculously regains her memory, only to be shot and killed in the finale. All in a matter of hours. And people used to say that Jack Bauer never taking bathroom breaks was unrealistic.
Heroes ran rampant with its use of amnesia, but to give the show some credit, at least they came up with a more realistic excuse for it than a “light tap on the head.” If you can call an amnesia-based superpower realistic. But just because Heroes justified it, doesn’t mean they didn’t use it in ridiculous ways. Peter’s half-season of momentum-killing memory loss was bad, but it can’t even begin to compare to season three, where the cast decides that it would be a good idea to wipe the psychopathic serial killer Sylar’s memories and have him take the place of Nathan Petrelli, a highly influential and powerful politician. This went about as well as can be expected.
When you’ve been on the air as long as Doctor Who has, you’re going to run into amnesia at one point or another. But even just focusing on the modern series, it shows up nearly as often as the Daleks do. There’s ‘Human Nature’ and ‘Family of Blood’, when the Doctor gives up his memories of his Time Lord life to live as a human; there’s ‘The Next Doctor’, where a Victorian-era man represses the memories of his family’s death and becomes convinced that he is the Doctor; and there’s the the Season Four finale, in which the Doctor erases Donna’s memory and undoes a season’s worth of much-needed character development. And if you thought that over-reliance on amnesia was merely a symptom of Russell T. Davies’ melodramatic flair as showrunner, think again. Steven Moffat introduced two separate villains who operate by removing memories: the crack in the universe, and the Silence. But leave it to Moffat, the master of all things creepy, to highlight the disturbing potential of having your memories erased. Especially when the monster is still in the room, just out of sight.
Lost was infamous for its complete and total refusal to answer any questions. So when Claire returned from being captured by the mysterious Others, it was inevitable that something would prevent us from learning about them. By this point, you should be completely unsurprised that the “something” was amnesia. Of course, Claire got most of her memory back by the next season, but still didn’t reveal anything useful. Which can serve as some kind of metaphor for the entirety of Lost, really: plot happens, plot gets undone, nothing changes.
The Middleman’s raison d’etre was to play around with television tropes, so of course it was going to tackle amnesia at some point or another. They just did it in a completely hilarious way. Wendy Watson (Natalie Morales) hits it off with charming young musician Tyler Ford, who immediately loses his memory of the past 48 hours. Fortunately, it’s satire, so the kids make it work in the end.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel
We’re grouping these two shows together because they take place in the same universe and shared much of the writing staff. It also highlights how often they turn to this particular plot device. Both series include “wacky amnesia” episodes (‘Tabula Rasa’ on Buffy, and ‘Spin The Bottle’ on Angel) where the main cast loses their memory and hijinks ensue. To be fair, both episodes are actually very funny, and help to further the plot. But Angel also inflicts the dramatic variety of amnesia on two of its characters with considerably less success, wiping Cordelia’s memory just as she’s about to admit her feelings for the titular vampire, and erasing Connor’s traumatic childhood for nearly an entire season.
Every Sitcom Ever
Okay, this might be pushing the boundaries of “amnesia” a little bit. But what else do you call it when Homer Simpson learns the same lessons about treating his family better every other week for twenty years and immediately forgets it? Or when a beloved family member stops by for an episode, leaves, and is never spoken of again? Some sitcoms have started keeping some continuity (like How I Met Your Mother), but in most, the characters are like Guy Pierce in Memento, only with a 22-minute memory window instead of a 10-minute one.