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TV episodes that solved a major mystery about the series

As streaming has become the default way that more and more viewers consume television, the most popular shows are those that are designed to be binged. This breed of television is less about the story of the week and more about the big overarching mysteries that eventually end with that most sacred of television moments: the reveal.

We're not talking about crazy twists that come out of nowhere. We're talking about long-running questions that the show hangs over your head, teasing you for multiple episodes, or perhaps even multiple seasons. Eventually, when the answers to these big questions arrive, you have to ask yourself, was it worth it?

For this selection of the most memorable "big reveal" episodes that we have gathered for you, the answer was definitively yes! Some of these shows were indeed written in this new age where serialized storytelling is king, and the rest were just a little ahead of their time. It should hopefully not be a plot twist at this point to say that, for all of the shows that we're talking about today, we are not going to be shying away from spoilers.

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Mad Men - Nixon vs. Kennedy

We all know that Mad Men's enigmatic protagonist Don Draper is an extremely private person, and if you're a TV character, that can mean only one thing: you have a dark secret. Don's co-worker Harry Crane even comments at one point, "Draper? Who knows anything about that guy… He could be Batman for all we know."

We get a piece of the story in "5G," when Don is contacted by his long-lost brother Adam. Adam insists that Don's name is "Dick Whitman," and wants to know why "Dick" disappeared. Their conversation also hints that they had a horribly abusive childhood. This encounter shakes Don to his core, and he ends up offering Adam $5,000 to never contact him again. 

The truth finally comes out in "Nixon vs. Kennedy." This episode features flashbacks to Don's time in the Korean War, when he was still "Dick Whitman." Dick was serving alongside a lieutenant named Don Draper, whose tour of duty was almost up. When Lieutenant Draper was killed, Dick switched dog tags with him, faking his own death and impersonating Lieutenant Draper so that he could go home sooner. It worked, and when he finally got back home, since "Dick Whitman" was legally dead, Dick decided to reinvent himself as "Don Draper," an ideal version of himself without the poverty and shame of his childhood. But given how haunted by this event present day Don is, it's clear that this plan to escape his past didn't really work out.

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X-Files - The Sixth Extinction

The X-Files chronicles the adventures of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, two FBI agents who not only fight the paranormal, but also fight the government's attempts to cover up their work. As they investigate various supernatural phenomena, time and again they find their efforts thwarted by a mysterious government official whose real name isn't known, but who soon gains the moniker of "The Cigarette Smoking Man."

After six seasons of mystery surrounding this character, there is an enormous reveal about him in the seventh season's two-part premiere, "The Sixth Extinction." In it, Mulder and Scully find the remains of a mysterious alien craft, and after spending some time around it, Mulder suddenly slips into a coma. Even though Mulder's body is paralyzed, his mind becomes more powerful than ever. He remains completely aware of his surroundings even while unconscious, and gains the ability to read the minds of people around him.

Mulder is rushed to a hospital, and while he is there, the Smoking Man comes to his bedside, with the intention of studying the new powers that Mulder is developing. The Smoking Man starts having a psychic conversation with Mulder, wherein he makes a confession that fundamentally changes their relationship forever. Smokey tells Mulder, in the immortal words of Darth Vader, "I am your father." The reason that he chooses to reveal this at this time isn't stated, but perhaps it's because he knows that Mulder's mind reading powers mean that he can't hide his secrets anymore.

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The Good Place - Michael's Gambit

The Good Place opens with Eleanor Shellstrop discovering that she has recently died and is now in Heaven, which everyone there calls "The Good Place." She is then introduced to Chidi, an ethics professor who is supposedly her eternal soulmate, and so accordingly, her new roommate. But Eleanor and Chidi instantly hate each other, and can't stand living together.

Since Eleanor knows that she was a terrible person when she was alive, she first assumes that she was sent to the Good Place by mistake, her fate accidentally switched with Chidi's real soulmate. This idea is reinforced when Eleanor meets a man named Jason, who similarly believes he ended up in the Good Place by mistake, and who also has nothing in common with his supposed soulmate, Tahani.

In the first season's finale, "Michael's Gambit," Eleanor finally puts it all together. She, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani have all secretly been in "The Bad Place" (Hell) the entire time, enduring an elaborate experiment in a new form of torture: whether or not you could take demons out of the equation all together, and make humans torture each other just by forcing incompatible people to live together. So far, it had been working.

From here on, future seasons of the show will continue to get crazier as our four protagonists attempt to change their fate, travelling through Heaven, Hell, Earth, and beyond in search of where they truly belong, but this episode was definitely the single biggest game changer of all.

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Breaking Bad - ABQ

All throughout season 2 of Breaking Bad, we are shown, without context, haunting glimpses of what looks like the aftermath of a crime scene in Walter White's backyard. The most eye-catching element of all is a badly burned pink teddy bear with one eye that is floating face-down in Walter's swimming pool. It's clearly foreshadowing something big, but that something doesn't arrive until the season finale, an episode called "ABQ."

At the end of the previous episode, Walter intentionally neglected to prevent the death of a woman named Jane for complicated (but ultimately selfish) reasons that relate to his continued desire to grow his criminal empire. In "ABQ," Jane's father Donald discovers that his daughter has died, and is understandably devastated. Later, we see Donald at work, and learn that he is an air traffic controller. While directing traffic in the Albuquerque skies, Donald is unable to stop ruminating on his daughter's death, and inadvertently causes two passenger planes to collide, killing hundreds of people. Walter, who is sitting in his backyard, looks up, and sees the crashing planes above his house, just as a burning pink teddy bear lands in his pool.

This moment can be interpreted as illustrating a lesson that Walter has failed to learn, that will continue to be an ongoing theme throughout the series: what might seem like a singular crime with clearly defined boundaries will inevitably spiral out of control and lead to larger negative consequences for you and everyone around you.

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer - No Place Like Home

Season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer opens with what will turn out to be possibly the boldest creative decision in the entire series. Suddenly, Buffy has a younger sister who is living in her house, and everyone, including Buffy and her mother, are acting as though it's always been this way. This sort of thing had occasionally happened before on poorly-written sitcoms. A new kid sidekick is added to the cast to appeal to a younger demographic with no in-universe explanation, but surely this sort of thing couldn't happen on Buffy?

In "No Place Like Home," we finally get an answer as to why the show has been gaslighting us like this. Buffy discovers the Order of Dagon, a group of monks tasked with protecting an all-powerful source of mystical energy known as the Key. In order to protect the Key from evil, the monks performed a ritual to hide it in human form — that being Dawn — and sent it to the home of the Slayer, the place where they felt it would be most protected. Their ritual also altered the memories of everyone in Buffy's life, so that they remembered Dawn as having always been there.

Even after Buffy and Dawn discover what she really is, their bond as sisters is unbreakable, and Dawn remains an important part of the show from then on. Whether or not her strange addition to the show was worth it is a question that divides fans to this day.

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True Detective - After You've Gone

In the first episode of True Detective, detectives Martin Hart and Rust Cohle begin their investigation of a highly elusive serial killer. As they do so, they also come across a strange story from a little girl who claims that she was chased through the woods by what she called a "green-eared spaghetti monster." Throughout most of the season, this story remains a seemingly inexplicable dead end, up until the episode "After You've Gone," when everything suddenly clicks into place.

In this episode, we are reintroduced to a very minor character from the third episode, a groundskeeper named Errol Childress who worked at a school the detectives suspected the killer was somehow involved with. We didn't get a good look at Childress' face in that episode, but now we do, and we see that his face is covered in a series of scars that, to a child, might look like spaghetti.

Even though the killer's identity becomes clear to the audience at this point, the two detectives don't put this together until the following episode, when they realize that at the same time the "green-eared spaghetti monster" was sighted, one of the serial killer's future victims just had their house re-painted green, and Errol Childress was the one who painted it. They realize the "spaghetti" referred to his scars, and the "green ears" indicates that he must have just finished painting that house, and he accidentally got some of the green house paint on his ears.

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Doctor Who - A Good Man Goes to War

In season 4 of Doctor Who, the Doctor meets a mysterious time traveler known as River Song who has powers similar to the Doctor's, and who claims to be an old friend of his. It soon becomes clear that, although they are indeed friends from River's point of view, the fact that they are both time travelers means that they tend to meet each other out of order, and this is the first time they've met in the Doctor's timeline. Over the course of the next few seasons, the two characters continue to cross paths, but Song is always aloof about how she got her abilities, and how she and the Doctor first met.

In the sixth season episode "A Good Man Goes to War," we finally get our answer. The Doctor discovers that his travelling companion Amy Pond and her newborn daughter Melody have been captured by the villainous Madame Kovarian. Apparently, there is something special about Amy's baby that makes her a valuable commodity. The Doctor eventually discovers that the newborn Melody has abilities similar to his own, because although she is a normal human, she was conceived while on-board the TARDIS, the Doctor's time travelling spacecraft.

It is then that the Doctor finally puts it together — Amy's daughter, Melody Pond, was the birth name of someone he already knows who will eventually grow up to be a time travelling adventurer better known by a pseudonym that also evokes music and a body of water: "River Song."

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Monk - Mr. Monk and the End

Though detective Adrian Monk solves many impossible mysteries throughout the TV series that bears his name, there is one case he was never able to close: the murder of his wife Trudy. Her death haunts him so much that he wasn't even able to open the last Christmas present she bought him.

This all changes in the series finale, "Mr. Monk and the End." While investigating a murder, Monk discovers that he has been poisoned by an unknown toxin for which there is no cure, unless the doctors can identify it. He suspects that whoever poisoned him is trying to prevent him from solving his current case.

Since he is dying, Adrian finally decides to open Trudy's last present to him and finds that it is a videotape. On the tape, a recording of Trudy confesses to Adrian that she once had an affair with a judge named Ethan Rickover. At the time the tape's recording, Rickover had just asked to meet with her again, and Trudy was worried that he might try to kill her to cover up their previous affair, so she made this tape and hid it among Adrian's Christmas presents in case that happened.

This information is not only enough to finally help Adrian solve Trudy's murder, but it also helps him figure out that Rickover is responsible for the current murder he is investigating, and thus his own poisoning, as well. What a way to close a case… and a series.

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Jessica Jones - AKA You're a Winner

The MCU Netflix series Jessica Jones tells the story of the eponymous former superhero turned private investigator as she solves weekly mysteries while also dealing with a dark figure from her past who has returned to haunt her, the mind controlling supervillain Kilgrave. In the first episode of the series, Jessica has a one-night stand with the superhero Luke Cage, and notices a photo of a woman in Cage's bathroom which seems to disturb her greatly. The woman was Luke's wife, Reva Connors, who died under mysterious circumstances. By the end of this episode, we are left with a mess of unanswered questions. How did Jessica break free of Kilgrave's supposedly unbreakable mind control? What was Jessica's involvement with Reva Connors? How did Reva Connors die?

All of these questions are ultimately answered in the episode "AKA You're a Winner." In it, Jessica finally confesses to Luke Cage that she was the one who killed his wife. In the time when Jessica was still Kilgrave's loyal servant, Reva Connors had learned information about Kilgrave that he wanted to keep hidden, and so Kilgrave used his mind control to command Jones to kill Connors. Jessica did as Kilgrave commanded, but the regret and self-hatred that Jones felt in the moments following Connors' death gave her the strength to break free of Kilgrave's control for good. Luke, understandably, does not take this well — not because of what she did, but because of how long she hid it from him.

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Steven Universe - Jail Break

There are many multi-layered mysteries that are explored throughout Steven Universe, which tells the tale of the Crystal Gems — a team of mystic superheroes who each get their powers from a magic crystal permanently embedded somewhere in their body. But during the first season, the biggest mystery is Garnet, a generally aloof and cryptic character who, unlike the rest of the heroes, has two crystals, one in each of her palms. What's up with that?

The first hint comes in the episode "Giant Woman," when we learn that two or more Crystal Gems can temporarily magically fuse together into a single being with all their powers combined and magnified. But the big reveal finally arrives in "Jail Break," when Garnet is captured by the villains and forcibly split into two separate characters named Ruby and Sapphire, each with only a single gem. The character who we have known as Garnet has actually been a fusion of these two other women the entire time!

As big of a reveal as that is, the reason why Ruby and Sapphire choose to remain fused at all times is perhaps an even bigger deal for the way that it made television history. Quite simply, they're in love, and don't like being apart. This made Ruby and Sapphire one of the first confirmed queer couples in any TV show made for children. Fortunately, soon after, Ruby and Sapphire reunite, and re-form Garnet, the physical manifestation of their unbreakable relationship.

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Seinfeld - The Switch

At first, the sitcom Seinfeld doesn't seem like it would have any sort of long-running mystery at the heart of the series that spans multiple seasons, but believe it or not, it does: Kramer's first name. All throughout the first five seasons of the show, he is only ever referred to as Kramer. Even the other three protagonists, — Jerry, George, and Elaine — don't know his real first name.

All of this changes in the season 6 episode "The Switch," when the crew decides to enlist the help of a previously unseen character in order to pull off one of their ill-fated schemes: Kramer's mother Babs. When Babs sees her son for the first time in a long time, she calls out his name, "Cosmo," in mixed company, apparently unaware that he had been keeping it a secret.

George is both shocked and delighted to learn this. After he shares the news with Jerry and Elaine, they are equally thrilled, but Kramer himself is horribly embarrassed. Apparently he had been running from that name for years, ashamed of it. Over the course of the episode, he learns to accept his given name, and is reborn as "Cosmo Kramer," a name that he no longer shies away from using for the remainder of the series.