Created By: BlackDragon on January 24, 2008
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DemonExMachina

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Ending-Spoilers ahoy below!

Basically, it's like a Deus ex Machina, only EVIL. This is for when the author realizes, to his chargrin, that there's actually a chance that the heroes will wind up being HAPPY at the end of the story - and we can't have that, since True Art Is Angsty. Enter a completely random and arbitrary event that makes sure that EVERYBODY, including the reader, is going to come away from the ending with a crushing depression. It can involve either entirely random events, or inexplicably turning somebody Too Stupid To Live.

Mind, it IS possible to create a 'sad ending' without resorting to this - for example, in His Dark Materials, the very premise of the interdimentional travel ensures that Will and Lyra will end up sepparated by infinity. Taking away Lyra's compass-reading abilities was a bit of a "Kick 'em while they're down" moment, but it's really mostly irrelevant.

A textbook example of this is City Of Angels - after the angel has fallen to mortality in order to be with his love-interest, a truck just comes outta nowhere, for no reason whatsoever, and kills her. Just because.

Perdido Street Station brings out a Double-Barreled Demon Ex Machina - first Lin's utterly ridiculous and unreasoned decision to turn around when EVERYBODY is yelling "Don't look behind you!!" and studiously turning their backs to it. Compounded by the Slake-Moth grabbing her and sucking the juice out the MOMENT she's hypnotized, even though Mr. Motley has, at that point, been hypnotized by it for several minutes at least - it just ignored him. And second, the out-of-the-blue arrival of Kar'uchai, and Isaac's unexplainable decision to betray Yag because of what she tells him. China Mieville couldn't allow even ONE character to come away from the story feeling the least bit happy...

I must admit, this trope is partially motivated by self-interest - I loathe 'bad endings' in general, and this type in particular - a list of examples would provide me with a nice list of movies and books to AVOID. >_<
Community Feedback Replies: 34
  • January 24, 2008
    arromdee
    Evangelion, of course.
  • January 24, 2008
    Sikon
    Isn't this Dropped A Bridge On Him?

    And yes, Evangelion probably does qualify.
  • January 24, 2008
    Redhead64
    May Cause Deus Angst Machina.
  • January 24, 2008
    Mystyc
    This may use Bridges to produce the effect, but it doesn't necessarily require anyone to die.

    How about the last guy on earth whose glasses broke on The Twilight Zone?
  • January 24, 2008
    Redhead64
    Mystyc: Which one? The one where a people-hating jerk wishes everyone away or the one where the guy basically didn't do anything wrong? I haven't seen either; I just read it from the Outer Limits Twist article. Speaking of which, I think this may be either a supertrope or subtrope of Outer Limits Twist!
  • January 24, 2008
    Mystyc
    The second. The first guy is more Hoist By His Own Petard.
  • January 24, 2008
    FalconPain
    A lot of the examples in Shoot The Shaggy Dog feel like this to me.

    Often, the writer insists that they're trying to make a point. One of The Oldest Ones In The Book is the myth of Orpheus, the courageous bard who braves Tartarus itself to bring back his beloved Eurydice, and then loses her in the end anyway. (Other stories have used this "nothing can cheat death" approach; Moulin Rouge! comes immediately to mind.) Unfortunately, the existence of the myth of Admetus and Alcestis seems to undermine the whole thing, unless the Greeks wanted to claim that it's better to be strong than artistic.

    Easy Rider is famous for its ending.
  • January 24, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    So basically, this is an Ass Pull to avoid a happy ending.

    The "monster isn't dead" ending is related, especially the ending to the first Nightmare on Elm Street. Wes Craven didn't even want to do that.

    I heard of an anime where a girl had her family killed and then she was raised to be an assassin. When she finally got free of that life, another assassin girl kills her boyfriend. The Ass Pull is that the story gave no indication that the girl was not unique.

    The ending of Time Bandits is one, not for killing off his parents, since the thing that killed them was already established, but that why would they touch something strange in the microwave, especially at the same time?

    The ending of the film version of The Mist seems to be this, as stated in Deus Angst Machina, mainly because there was not sign of survivors until then.

    There was an episode of Alvin and the Chipmunks where they raised a cat they named Cookie Chomper the III. At the end, a neighbor ran him over. Of course that happens in real life, but the fact that it happened in the [i]last two minutes[/i] of the episode was a horrible case of Death By Newberry Medal.
  • January 24, 2008
    RossN
    Tom Holt does this a lot in his novels - Little People is an especially glaring instance, introducing a metaphyical reason to force a Downer Ending between the hero and the girl of his dreams, after the Big Bad had already been defeated.
  • January 24, 2008
    FalconPain
    I suppose But Now I Must Go is the family-friendly version of this trope.
  • January 24, 2008
    BobbyG
    Can this be Daemon Ex Machina, to match the Latin Deus Ex Machina?
  • January 24, 2008
    VampireBuddha
    The Epic Of Gilgamesh is another ancient one: Gilgamesh faces a long series of insane trials twice to get the flower which will ressurect his best friend, only to have it snatched out of his hand just before he gets home.

    There's another example in the Book of Judges - Jepthah goes out to defeat the Ammonites in battle. Just before leaving, he promises God that if he wins, he'll sacrifice the first thing he sees upon returning home. He wins, but as soon as he gets back, he sees his daughter leaving the house to go chase after his pet dog.

    Also, I oppose Daemon Ex Machina. Daemon is actually a Greek word, and basically means a man's spirit guide (women had a similar, feminine version). Daemons were good spirits. Demon, however, is definitely evil, referring to either a dark god or fallen angel, depending on what you believe.
  • January 24, 2008
    BobbyG
    Fair enough. I got that from Wiktionary; I don't speak Latin myself.
  • January 24, 2008
    Luc
    I always called this Diablo Ex Machina. And, yeah, I always find this particular thing to be just as stupid as a Deus Ex Machina, for exactly the same reason: a good ending is earned and set up. If your ending, good or bad, comes from an Ass Pull, it's just plain unsatisfying.
  • January 24, 2008
    Earnest
    I should have remembered this earlier, but it sounds like a Mandatory Twist Ending. Doing it just because the show/series is based around having unhappy and controversial endings. It Needs Loves anyway.
  • January 24, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    Actually, Orsus Ex Machina would work too.
  • January 24, 2008
    anowack
    I don't feel like Evangelion really qualifies. Say what you will about the ending, but it doesn't come out of nowhere in this fashion.
  • January 24, 2008
    Lumbargo
  • January 24, 2008
    thatother1dude
    Related to a Xanatos Roulette that works, in that both are unlikely, but Xanatos Roulette can at least can be claimed to not come from nowhere. May be related to Hope Spot.
  • January 24, 2008
    iTroper
    I'd have to disagree on Vampire Buddha's opinion of "Daemon Ex Machina", simply because of His Dark Materials. Since Daemons played a prominent part of the story, even though they were as you said not evil, and the story was extremely depressing in exactly the way this trope describes, I would have voted in favor of it.

    However, the title reference might be too obscure, so... Punny names it is! Douche Ex Machina gets my vote, despite my other opinions.
  • January 24, 2008
    Luc
    Another vote for Douche Ex Machina.
  • January 24, 2008
    Insanity Prelude
    Douche Ex Machina has this almost-rhyming thing going for it. I like.
  • January 24, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    Just for the record, on Vampire Buddha's mention of Jephtha --

    The verse in question is a bit coy in its language, and the translation is uncertain; depending on how it's read it either says Jephtha sacrificed his daughter (an act which should have been repugnant to any Hebrew and was repeatedly condemned by God himself), or else it says he sent her into a life of celebacy (which would have been nearly as distressing, because she was his only child and thus the end of his line if she failed to have a child). The verse does harp on the fact that she's a virgin, which suggests that it means she was "dedicated to God", which we would equate to becoming a nun rather than a murder victim.
  • January 24, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    Vote for Diablo Ex Machina. And cue the Ominous Latin Chanting.

    - Noaqiyeum
  • January 25, 2008
    Ununnilium
    Both Outer Limits Twist and Mandatory Twist Ending are definitely related. This is a somewhat subjective thing, too.
  • January 25, 2008
    VampireBuddha
    @iTroper: Come to think of it, the daemons in His Dark Materials were quite similar to the Greek concept. I don't really see your point - after all, when do the daemons try to cause harm to the characters or bring about a bad ending?

    (For the record, I actuaully thought HDS had a rather Bittersweet Ending).

    Also, I vote for Diablo Ex Machina.
  • January 25, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    Black Dragon, on another machine: I saw HDS as a Downer Ending, but it wasn't the result of an Ass Pull - the metaphysical rules that ensured the main tragedy were already well-founded in the world. Hence, it's not really an example of this... as a matter of fact, I mentioned it in the original post as a sad ending 'done right'.
  • January 25, 2008
    Native Jovian
    I vote for Diablo Ex Machina.

    And HDS had what I like to call a Crappy Ending, but that's neither here nor there.
  • January 25, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    As if you're screwed up enough by the foreknowlege that the Designated Protagonist is going to die, Elphaba in Wicked is given false hope that a member of the party killing her is her dead <del>fuckbuddy</del> former lover (and possible father to possible child) which is broken only moments before meeting Dorothy, and crazy dreams. Not to mention has all hopes of her crazy need for redemption (or even needing it, see above) by killing off all but one (or two) vague relations to said dead former lover by word of the Magnificent Bastard/Unknowing Birth Father Wizard. Then there's the mysterious third act of the play about Elphaba, saying there was no "marriage" of the Holy (afterlife) and Wicked (Her) or something like that.

    My idea, to be a proper ref to Deus Ex Machina, Daimon Ex Machina. (Daimon being Greek for many things in relation to chance, but most clearly Demon.)
  • January 25, 2008
    puritybrown
    Shouldn't it be Diabolus Ex Machina? The concept of a deus ex machina comes from Greek drama, but the actual phrase is Latin. (The Greek for "god" is "theos".)

    I was actually going to propose something similar and never got round to it -- I'd noticed it coming up in the Discworld books, though not so much to prevent a happy ending -- more to prevent the Disc from becoming too similar to our world. In the early books, any time some sort of technological or social development from our world looked like becoming widespread on the Disc, creatures from the Dungeon Dimensions would show up and attack. (Happened with film in Moving Pictures and rock music in Soul Music. In Sourcery, Dungeon Dimension creatures showed up because... um... there wouldn't have been a plot otherwise.) Later Pratchett started wheeling out the Auditors to stop Death from just doing whatever he wanted to do.
  • January 26, 2008
    Lumbargo
    That was to stop his parodies from developing to the point where he'd have to write them into every single book afterwards, I think. :D

    He's let the tech level move forward quite a bit in his latest books...
  • January 26, 2008
    BlackDragon
    Diabolus Ex Machina is, indeed, proper Latin. Using 'Demon' instead of 'Devil' would result in a number of possible translations (everto, eruo, adnihilo) but none of those are recognizeable.

    So, unless there are any protests, I'll launch this as Diabolus Ex Machina shortishly, 'k?
  • January 26, 2008
    Unknown Troper
  • January 26, 2008
    Redhead64
    Um, Unknown, if you bothered to read the replies, we already established that this is related to this trope, and it's not always mandatory!

    And I like Diabolus Ex Machina (I initially supported Douche Ex Machina, until I learned how "Deus" was pronounced; It's pronounced "DAY-us", by the way). Bonus points for Diabolus (Devil) being the opposite of Deus (God)!
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