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TV Characters Who Disappeared Without Explanation

Considering how important continuity is in contemporary television, you might think it's practically unheard of for established characters to just disappear from a series without explanation. After all, while there was a time when just about all television fiction — with the exception of daytime soap operas — was episodic, even half-hour sitcoms these days use more serial storytelling. With more and more viewers binging whole seasons of shows in big gulps, any details from early episodes that don't match up with later ones are going to be more noticeable, including characters failing to reappear. 

And yet even with everything on TV feeling more like daytime soaps than they used to, there are still characters who just evaporate as if they never showed up in the first place. Whether it was just more convenient for the shows' creators to pretend they'd never introduced them, they never found a spot for the character again, or some other bizarre reason, there are plenty of examples of series — both older shows and newer ones — in which characters were lost in a kind of fictional Bermuda Triangle. Keep reading for examples of TV characters who disappeared without any explanation. 

Mandy Hampton wasn't a good fit for The West Wing

For the first season of NBC's hit political drama The West Wing, Moira Kelly played political consultant Mandy Hampton. When the series begins, Mandy is dating and working for a potential rival of President Bartlet (Martin Sheen), but by the second episode, she's hired by the Bartlet administration as its new media director. Just like many of The West Wing's characters, Mandy has strong political convictions, and she isn't afraid to take flak for them. In fact, she rocks the proverbial boat in the Bartlet White House more than once. But in spite of her intelligence and political savvy, when The West Wing's second season rolled around, Mandy Hampton was nowhere to be found, and no one ever bothered to say why. 

West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin told The Hollywood Reporter in 2014 that the character "just wasn't working," adding that the bad fit "had nothing to do with [Moira Kelly's] considerable talent." Whatever the reason Mandy didn't gel with the Bartlet team, it wasn't Sorkin's intention to keep her departure a mystery. In 2001, after the show's second season began, Sorkin announced that he planned to bring Mandy back for "The War at Home." Ed Begley Jr. guest-starred in the episode as Seth Gillette — a character based on former presidential candidate Ralph Nader — and Sorkin planned to reveal Hampton had left Bartlet's administration to work for the political outsider, but her return never materialized.  

Mark Brendanawicz wasn't happy on Parks and Rec

Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider) seemed like one of Parks and Recreation's most important characters in its brief first season. While he works in the Pawnee City Hall, Mark is the straight man of the show, a civil servant completely disillusioned with the dysfunction of Pawnee's government, contrasting sharply with Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), who talks about the town's bureaucracy like it's the answer to all of life's problems. He dates Leslie's best friend, Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), but at the end of season two — after he's dumped by Ann and the Pawnee government is shut down — Mark leaves the public sector to work for a construction company. After that, he disappears from the series entirely and is hardly even mentioned again. 

Granted, leaving the Pawnee government is sort of an explanation for why Mark disappeared, but plenty of characters quit their local bureaucratic jobs on the show and stuck around (for example, Tom, Ron, Ben, April, Andy, and even Leslie herself). According to Schneider, he decided to leave the show when he found himself without any kind of clear purpose. As he explained to ScreenCrush, "You know, I signed up for a specific character that was changed in mid-season. And it became a character with a lot less to do. And, all of a sudden, I was kind of confused and kind of having a lot less to do." Parks and Recreation co-creator Mike Schur said there were plans to bring Schneider back, but not only did he never return, Schneider claimed no one spoke to him about returning and that he wasn't interested in doing so regardless.

Pulaski wasn't the right doctor for Star Trek: The Next Generation

After the conclusion of Star Trek: The Next Generation's first season, the Enterprise got a new doctor. Largely due to the wishes of the series' head writer Maurice Hurley, Gates McFadden was fired from her role as Dr. Beverly Crusher and replaced by Diana Muldaur as the ship's new physician, Dr. Katherine Pulaski. The new doctor felt much more like the fiery Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) of Star Trek: The Original Series, often passionately disagreeing with Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and going out of her way to scoff at the attempts of the self-aware android Data (Brent Spiner) to appear more human. 

However, the character was less than a favorite with fans, and by the season three premiere, Pulaski was gone, and Dr. Crusher had returned to the Enterprise. Narratively, Crusher's departure and return was explained as her promotion to the head of Starfleet Medical and her subsequent desire to return to work aboard a starship, though it was never explained if Pulaski left of her own accord or was forced out.

Behind the scenes, Muldaur was absolutely fine with leaving TNG. In a 2013 interview with StarTrek.com, Muldaur said she had never planned to be on TNG for very long, and in the 2014 documentary Chaos on the Bridge, she told William Shatner that while she got along with the other actors, the focus on technology over character in TNG rubbed her the wrong way. 

Fans applauded Cathy Simms' departure from The Office

For the first three seasons of The Office, one of the biggest questions on fans' minds was whether or not salesman Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) and receptionist Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer) would ever get to do more than secretly long for each other. We finally learned they were dating in the season four premiere, and two seasons later, they got married in Niagara Falls in one of The Office's best episodes. But in season eight, a new threat to their relationship emerged.

Cathy Simms (Lindsey Broad) was hired as a temporary replacement for Pam while the latter went on maternity leave. During a business trip to Florida, Cathy tried and failed to seduce Jim in his hotel room. Two episodes later in "Last Day in Florida," we saw Cathy for the very last time. She was at the meeting in which Todd Packer (David Koechner) finally got fired by Robert California (James Spader). There's no word on whether she ever returned from Florida or what happened to her.

Regardless of Cathy Simms' fate, fans were so angry with the fictional character for trying to break up Jim and Pam's marriage that years after Cathy's final appearance, viewers were still taking it out on the actor. In an August 2020 tweet, Lindsey Broad mentioned that she'd just posted on Instagram about another dog mauling her dog to death and that "a bunch of people" rudely responded — because of her time on The Office — that she deserved it.  

Community's Professor Slater may have met an ugly fate

While she's probably better known for her parts in shows like the medical drama Grey's Anatomy and the espionage drama Burn Notice, actress Lauren Stamile enjoyed a memorable recurring role on the first season of the sitcom Community. Stamile played Michelle Slater, a statistics professor who gets romantically involved with Jeff Winger (Joel McHale). She abruptly breaks up with Winger towards the end of the season, but in the season finale, she tries to win him back. Slater and Britta (Gillian Jacobs) have a bitter rivalry over Jeff during a dance, publicly demanding he choose between them. Instead, Winger leaves them both empty-handed, and we never see Professor Slater on the series again. 

The makers of Community let eagle-eyed fans know Slater's absence was a little conspicuous. In season two's "Intro to Political Science," Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed's (Danny Pudi) news coverage of the student body presidential race includes a news crawl announcing things like "basketball team loses ball" and "human being mascot: offensive to animals?" One of the more serious announcements reads that "Professor Slater still missing." 

According to Community writer Andy Bobrow, Slater's disappearance wasn't for lack of the writers trying to bring her back. Bobrow responded to a fan on Twitter asking about Slater's absence, insisting that "we have definitely pitched ideas for her," but that none of them interested the series creator/showrunner Dan Harmon. 

Dr. Grace Miller disappeared from Scrubs

In season three of the medical comedy Scrubs, the show's creators tried to replicate the success they'd found with the blunt and hilarious Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley) by bringing in Bellamy Young as the female answer to Cox — Dr. Grace Miller. Miller first appears in "My Tormented Mentor" as the new attending surgeon. While the other surgeons expect a meek, helpless new co-worker, Dr. Miller proves to be as confident and capable as any doctor at Sacred Heart, and like Dr. Cox, she doesn't suffer fools easily. For example, when she meets her new residents, after laying down a few random rules (e.g. she can't stand cologne or the phrase "it's Miller time"), she says, "I'd like to take a minute to listen to any questions or comments that any of you might have and then after this minute, I never want to hear from any of you ever, ever, ever again."

Apparently someone didn't want to hear from her again because after only five appearances in season three, Dr. Miller disappears without explanation. She shows up very briefly during J.D.'s (Zach Braff) last fantasy at the hospital in season eight's "My Finale," sporting shorter, darker hair. 

Fringe's Agent Jessup went back in the 'toolbox'

A little more than a decade before she became the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle landed an all-too-brief role on the science fiction drama Fringe. She appeared in two episodes of Fringe as FBI Special Agent Amy Jessup. 

Jessup's absence after season two's "Night of Desirable Objects" wouldn't be quite so conspicuous if it weren't for what appeared to be the seeds of a major storyline disappearing right along with her. After helping Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) save Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) from a shapeshifter, Jessup researches the Fringe Division's case files and discovers an alarming number of similarities between the events described in the files and passages from the Bible.

In 2009, Fringe executive producer Jeff Pinkner said (via EW) that the main reason for Jessup's disappearance was a stronger focus on the show's regular characters. "[Agent Jessup is] an available tool in our toolbox, and we'll use her as we see fit. [But] we're really trying to tell stories about our main characters ... we want to get deeper with them, so we don't have a lot of time to go into the FBI." Sadly, it seems Jessup's time would never come again to emerge from the toolbox.

Angel's Kate Lockley headed to New York

To some fans of the supernatural drama Angel, there could be no other love for the titular soulful vampire beyond Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But after David Boreanaz began leading his own spinoff series as the vampire in search of redemption, his first regular love interest was LAPD Detective Kate Lockley (Elisabeth Röhm). In the show, when Angel first meets Kate, it's when she's working undercover at a singles bar to investigate disappearances connected to the business. Angel and Kate keep running into each other, and as the detective is exposed to more of the supernatural world Angel lives in, she eventually learns that he's more than just a moody private investigator.

Having learned that creatures like demons and zombies are real, Lockley grows obsessed with any cases involving the supernatural, and it doesn't help her career. By Lockley's final appearance in season two's "Epiphany," she's hit rock bottom after being booted off the force. In one of their last scenes together, Angel saves her from a suicide attempt. 

According to Röhm, the real-life reason for her character's absence from the rest of Angel was her landing the role of A.D.A. Serena Southerlyn on Law & Order. The role moved Röhm from Los Angeles to New York City, giving her no time to reprise the role of Lockley. 

Star Trek's Janice Rand has horrible memories of her departure

While Star Trek: The Original Series' first season included Yeoman Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney), she would make her final appearance halfway through that season in "Balance of Terror," with no explanation for her departure. It's an absence you notice, particularly because in the first season, a romance begins to develop between Rand and the legendary Captain Kirk (William Shatner). Thankfully, it wouldn't be Whitney's final chance to play the character, as she reprised the role in a number of the Trek films, as well as in the season three Star Trek: Voyager episode "Flashback." 

But why did she disappear from the original show? Well, over the years, there have been different stories about Whitney's departure, with some of the most popular being that the network wanted Kirk free to have romances with other women, and another was that the series was over budget and her character was the easiest to cut. But in her 1998 memoir The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy, Whitney had her own theory. In the memoir, Whitney alleges that only "a few days" before she was told her character would no longer appear in the series, she was sexually assaulted by an unnamed Star Trek executive. "I have always believed that The Executive had me removed from Star Trek," Rand wrote, "because he didn't want to be reminded of what he did to me that night." 

Monica Dawson was forgotten on Heroes

After the phenomenal first season of NBC's Heroes, things went downhill fast. Largely due to the 2007-08 writers' strike, Heroes' second season was shortened to only 11 episodes, and the overall quality of the show suffered. One of the symptoms of the show's failure to live up to its promising inaugural season is how thoroughly Monica Dawson (Dana Davis) was forgotten. 

Inspired after the tragic death of her mother during Hurricane Katrina, Monica wants to make the world a better place. Shortly after she's introduced, Monica learns that like her cousin, Micah (Noah Gray-Cabey), she's been gifted with an incredible ability. Similar to the Marvel villain Taskmaster, Monica has adaptive muscle memory and can reproduce any physical feat she witnesses. For example, when a man tries to rob her place of work, she defends herself with a move she saw on a wrestling show. Shortly afterward, she's able to play the piano perfectly after watching Micah play it, even though she didn't know how to play previously. 

In the season two finale, a gang captures Monica, ties her up in an abandoning building, and sets the place on fire. Micah's mother, Niki (Ali Larter), sacrifices herself to save Monica, but the latter isn't seen on Heroes after her escape. Scenes were filmed with Monica for season three, but sadly, those scenes were cut.  

Community's Buzz Hickey may have died

In season five of Community, with some of the original cast members fading away, new blood showed up in Greendale Community College's most famous study group in the form of Professor Buzz Hickey (Jonathan Banks). A former cop and an aspiring comic strip artist, Buzz is the most hard-nosed of the study group members of Community, and in a lot of ways, he's a refreshing addition to the group. But when the sitcom's sixth and final season premiered, it did so without Buzz.

Behind the scenes, Banks exited Community because he'd already committed to reprising the role of Mike Ehrmantraut in Better Call Saul, but narratively, no reason for his absence on Community was offered ... at least, nothing obvious. However, a less obvious possibility is offered in the season six episode "Basic Email Security," when an Easter egg implies Buzz has died. It's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it-moment, but when a hacker breaks into Greendale's network, a shot of a cafeteria worker's screen shows an email with the subject line "Buzz Hickey Memorial Services."

It's far from a smoking gun, and it would seem strange for none of the other characters to mention Hickey's death, but it's an interesting detail nonetheless.

Happy Days' Chuck Cunningham was erased from existence

Chuck Cunningham of Happy Days is the officially unofficial king of TV characters who disappeared without explanation. First played by Gavan O'Herlihy — who was replaced by Randolph Roberts for two episodes — the older jock brother to Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) isn't seen or heard from after the show's first season. A basketball player at his college, Chuck has little to do with the story of Happy Days even when he's around, and after his departure, it's as if his parents and siblings have had their memories erasedHe doesn't show up for any landmark family functions, including his siblings' weddings, and no one ever comments on his absence. 

O'Herlihy claimed he exited the series of his own accord. In a 2017 interview with On Milwaukee, O'Herlihy said, "I hung around for the first half-season, then asked out of the contract. It wasn't my cup of tea. It raised some eyebrows, but I'm glad I did." 

Still, that doesn't explain why the Happy Days writers chose to pretend he had never existed. Regardless of the reason, Chuck's exit from the sitcom was so conspicuous it gave birth to the term "Chuck Cunningham Syndrome" to describe TV characters who likewise disappear without a trace.