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Deus Ex Machina / Live-Action TV

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Deus ex Machinae in live-action TV.


  • Subverted in the backstory of Babylon 5. During the Earth-Minbari War, the human forces lost every battle, without ever even managing to inflict significant losses on the Minbari. The Minbari's goal was nothing short of Kill All Humans, but when the invasion fleet entered Earth orbit and wiped away the last remnants of the human fleet, they suddenly ceased fire and offered an immediate and unconditional surrender, just moments before turning Earth into a smoldering wasteland. At the time, this appears to the human characters be an incredibly blatant example of the trope; later in the series, it's revealed that during the desperate last-ditch combat at the Battle of the Line, the ship bearing the Minbari Grey Council captured a human fighter and interrogated its pilot, discovering in the process that he carried a reincarnated Minbari soul. The obvious conclusion being that all the slaughter in which they'd indulged on their way to Earth was morally equivalent to internecine murder, the Minbari surrendered as the quickest way to put a stop to the killing.
    • Played straight with the ending to "Deathwalker", the titular war criminal is headed to earth with a Longevity Treatment that uses Human Resources with the intent to throw the galaxy into chaos but every government wants it anyways. When a Vorlon (the only race whose ambassador that hadn't even bothered to attend the meetings about Deathwalker) cruiser pops out of the jumpgate and vaporizes her ship. While completely in character for the Vorlons there was no indication whatsoever that they even cared.
  • Batman with Adam West. Lampshaded when their Bat-chopper gets shot down and they just happen to land on the mattress factory. "Hand me down the shark repellent Bat-Spray!" Anti-[fill-in-the-blank] pills were commonplace, including Anti-Penguin-Gas (taken before attending a town hall meeting held by The Penguin) and Anti-Hypnosis (to block the effect of The Joker's hypnotic music box) pills.
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  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) is full of them, more and more as the series progresses, and it wraps up with a gigantic and very literal example, when God using his "angels" rescues everybody and takes them to a pastoral paradise.
  • Used to comedic effect a number of times in Blackadder, for example in the episode The Queen of Spain's Beard. Edmund is scheduled to be married for political reasons to a Spanish princess, and nothing he does can get him out of the arrangement. At the end of the episode it is suddenly announced that the political allegiances of Europe have shifted and Edmund will instead be married to a Hungarian princess, who though she is only a child, is at the very least a more pleasant person to be around. It's particularly funny because historically, such changes could happen, but it's intentionally played as a Deus Ex Machina in the show.
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  • Parodied in an episode of Bottom where Eddie and Richie are trapped on a decommissioned Ferris wheel that is due to be demolished. At the end, they pray to God to rescue them and a giant hand appears to carry them to safety. Eddie then points out that neither of them actually believe in God, and the hand promptly disappears, leaving them to plummet to their deaths. They get better.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Some fans would nominate the sudden appearance in "Touched" of a Forgotten Superweapon in the sewers, immediately followed in "End of Days" by the discovery of a "feminine counterbalance" to the Watchers (who had female members anyway) hiding in a pyramid-shaped crypt that Buffy had patrolled past for the entire seventh season.
    • The conclusion of series 4, when they suddenly discover that they can all magically pool their power together so that Buffy is some sort of demigod, allowing a previously nigh-on indestructible foe to be abruptly, casually eliminated with a single blow. They then never use this power again (although this is explained by the potentially fatal nightmares it causes in the next episode).
    • Or that in the Seventh Season Buffy is able to start telepathically talking to Willow and Xander. It's previously been established that *Willow* can talk to them all using telepathy, but this is because *she* is the witch and had presumably cast a spell to do so. There is also no indication that they can talk back to her, much less to each other. One would think it would have come up in the series previously that the characters could start talking to each with their minds at any given moment.
    • A definite runner up would be Olaf's Troll Hammer suddenly being the weapon of a god.
    • The amulet that appears at the end of Season 7 definitely qualifies. The trope was played with in this case since the amulet was introduced before the ending of the series and suggested to be required for an apocalyptic battle (albeit without any clarification over its abilities) but simply on a DIFFERENT show (having appeared on Angel but then just suddenly showing up at the end on Buffy).
    • Pretty much the entire Finale to Season 7 qualifies. Willow was able to activate all the Slayers at once, an ability never previously shown to be possible for any character and which pretty much contradicted the basic concept of a Slayer that one had to die for the next to live. In effect, she had the ability to rewrite one of the series' basic rules in order to resolve the plot (she was even explicitly referred to in that episode as a Goddess after she cast the spell).
  • Children's light-drama series Byker Grove had a spectacularly blatant example in its final episode - the episode in question was even * titled* "Deus Ex Machina". The characters are informed by the unseen Writers that they are fictional, and that their youth club and indeed their whole world is also fictional. The Writers are planning to end the story after this final episode by having the Grove bought and knocked down, but can't bring themselves to destroy their creations, so they give the characters some magic script paper to write their own endings. Hilarity Ensues as the characters write their dream endings, but forget to try to save the Grove until the last moment, when it is saved by Stumpy, possibly the dumbest one of the whole bunch, who finds some previously unmentioned buried treasure (lazily foreshadowed just 2 minutes earlier in the episode). He buys the Grove, thereby saving it, and the moral of the story is that the characters have the ability to write their own story, and are no longer dependant on their creators for their existence.
  • The Christmas That Almost Wasn't: Santa and Whipple, having been convinced that the Big Bad Prune has won, walk sadly down a street, hoping for a miracle; then, along comes a boy named Charlie, improbably dragging his last-minute Christmas tree down the same street Santa and Whipple are sitting, learns of their predicament and summons all the children on the street to contribute, lifting Santa and Whipple's spirits.
  • Season 2 of Dexter had a false one. Doakes was inches away from being discovered being held captive by Dexter, and Dexter was rushing to intervene, only to discover the cabin had exploded, completing his attempts to frame Doakes as the Bay Harbor Butcher. Dexter actually refers to it as a "miracle" but later finds out Lila did it.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Boom Town" has an interesting example: although the heart of the TARDIS opening up and reverting Blon into an egg is out-of-the-blue in this episode, it sets up the heart's appearance in the season finale, listed below, and justifies it.
    • A literal example with Rosenote  in "The Parting of the Ways", a mere human companion, opening the heart of the TARDIS (although with help from her mother and Mickey), to telepathically pilot it to the 2001st century to save the Doctor, absorbing the vast energies of the time vortex, emerging out of from the TARDIS as the "Bad Wolf" to save the Doctor from the Daleks. "The god out of the machine."
    • In the episode "Doomsday", reversing the effects of opening a breach to the void that's been pulling Cybermen and Daleks through not only seals the void, but pulls back in any material that passed through it due to them holding background radiation. Also, it can be closed from one end.
    • "Last of the Time Lords" is a glaring example of a Deus Ex Machina. A satellite network which was used for subtle mind control by the Master is suddenly capable of giving the Doctor superpowers (telekinesis, regeneration (not talking about that kind), de-aging, flight and a force-field) provided everyone in the world thinks the word "Doctor" at the same time. This one comes with consequences: Martha's family, being aboard the Valiant, were at the eye of the storm. The Year That Never Was still happened for them.
    • In "Journey's End" there is the development that suddenly the Doctor can stave off a regenerationnote  by sending the excess energy into the hand he had cut off. Then a human touching it grows a new Doctor and when that human is electrocuted just before the Daleks activate their Reality Bomb to destroy all Universes, she gains the Doctor's intelligence and deactivates the machine, disabling the Daleks, though her mind has to be wiped of this or she will die. A common criticism of Russell T Davies is that he kept using these for his finales.
    • It is established that Donna will die if she remembers her time with the Doctor, there's an entire scene dedicated to how important it is that she never remember. In "The End of Time" a year later, it's revealed that the Doctor was being somewhat melodramatic as he had in fact installed a buffer to prevent her from suffering any harm whatsoever if and when she remembers... and just forgot to tell her family. In fact the act of remembering her previous life is actually pretty beneficial as it knocks out a bunch of master clones with no ill effects whatsoever.
    • The series also occasionally uses Stable Time Loops as well:
      • In "The Big Bang", the Doctor is permanently sealed inside the Pandorica with his Sonic Screwdriver, which is the only thing that could be used to open it from the outside. Suddenly, a future Doctor appears to give Rory the Screwdriver, allowing him to open the Pandorica, thus allowing the Doctor to escape and give the Screwdriver to Rory.
      • Other examples of Deux Ex Machina Stable Time Loops saving the day: In the short "Time Crash", the Tenth Doctor knows what to do because he saw what he did when he was the Fifth Doctor watching the Tenth Doctor do it. In the shorts "Space"/"Time", an Eleventh Doctor from slightly into the future comes back and tells the present Doctor which level to pull. These shorts were for charity, though. In fact, Rose's example above is another case of this: after obtaining godlike powers to stop the Daleks, she sends the words "Bad Wolf" back through time to make sure her past self will follow the same path. In short, her "Bad Wolf" incarnation created itself.
    • When you think about it from the perspective of a lot of the characters who only show up in one story, the Doctor himself is a Deus ex Machina. Think about it, these people are in the middle of a dangerous crisis, or in the early stages of one, and then out of nowhere, a strange blue box shows up. Then some guy and his companion(s) walk out and solve the whole damn problem.
    • This is how The Nth Doctor got started. The story is concluded, but the Doctor (and his actor) is dying. He rushes to the TARDIS, collapses, and then something completely insane happens.
    • The concept is presented in "Time Heist". There is a bank that holds the universe's most valuable treasures, and as security the bank has an alien that can sense guilt (and killing those who are guilty of trying to break into the bank). In order for the Doctor and his group to succeed, they had to wipe their memories after planning the heist, so if they are caught they won't be guilty because they literally have no idea how they are going to do it and what it is they are looking for up until the point they find it. As such, the entire heist is a series of deus ex machinae, one after another, of plot devices that they planted before their memories were wiped.
    • "The Doctor Falls" had a whopper of one. So, we have the Doctor dying of his injuries, with the suspicion he's going to be Killed Off for Real by refusing regeneration. It appears as though Missy (The Master) well, the Master shot Missy (his future incarnation) dead after she stabbed him... essentially, they die by being so crooked that they backstab themselves. Bill has been through the Trauma Conga Line, even by Companion standards forcibly transformed into a Cyberman, but still keeping enough of herself to block out the programming. Nardole is at least safe, but stranded on a space ship, and the Doctor might have stalled the Cybermen for the time being. So, how do our (marginally alive) heroes get out of it? Bill's girlfriend Heather, who had been transformed into a living "pilot" for an alien Hive Mind at the top of the season, shows up, heals Bill and gets the TARDIS to relative safety where the Twelfth Doctor stumbles out... and runs into the First Doctor!
  • In Fargo, the sudden appearance of a UFO outside the Motor Motel allows Lou to turn the tables on Bear and Peggy and Ed to escape their hotel room before Hanzee bursts in.
  • In the Heartland episode "When The Truth Lies", a widow's depression is resolved when a total stranger just happens to fall into the same well where her husband died, just happens to see her husband's moldering skeleton, just happens to decide to search the corpse despite being bugfuck terrified of it and distracted by his recently broken arm (in addition to comforting the other person trapped with him), just happens to find a tiny plot-relevant ring, which just happens to have avoided rusting in the past two decades underground, and just happens to show off his new discovery in front of the widow during the only brief period of time they have ever been in each other's vicinity.
  • iCarly has Freddie invent a 'mood app' that can apparently detect that Sam is "in love". How it got made was never discussed. It never showed up in a previous episode. Despite being illogical and unworkable even by iCarly standards, for some reason everyone in the show takes it at complete face value the instant they turn it on. A total example used as a lazy Ass Pull to setup a 5 part Romance Arc without having to go through any of that pesky character development.
  • Used to comedic effect in The IT Crowd, in the episode Return of the Golden Child. Roy, Moss and Jen are told they would be fired at the beginning of the episode, and only make things worse with their behavior at the funeral (during which their new boss continues to make references to their imminent termination). At the end of the episode Mr. Denholm's son suddenly reappears, is given full control of the company and fires the man who would have fired them.
  • An episode of Lost titled "Deus Ex Machina" features a literal case when Locke and Boone find a crashed Beechcraft plane filled with Virgin Mary statues (which turn out to be filled with heroin) and a radio. However, this improbable event only makes things worse (killing Boone, breaking Locke's faith, and fueling Charlie's drug habit). At the end of the episode, another literal case occurs when Locke is banging on and screaming at the metal hatch he and Boone found. A light comes out of the door which renews Locke's faith in the island (although this later turns out to have been caused by Desmond). Strangely, though, Locke's screaming actually stopped Desmond from committing suicide, so this was a real Deus Ex Machina moment after all.
  • Medium had two Deus ex Machinas when Allison was faced with spiritual enemies: The bad doctor (played by Romo Lampkin is finally caught by (presumably) the spirits of his wife and his mother. The Knight Templar stalker (he thinks psychics interfere with God's plan by catching criminals and saving people) is dragged to hell by the victims (almost two dozen in the space of about a week) of his psychic interference.
  • Used repeatedly by Monty Python's Flying Circus for comic effect, when they weren't otherwise deconstructing narrative convention. Think Graham Chapman's colonel stopping a sketch because it had become "silly". They have stated that they would do this when they had no idea how to end a sketch.
    • A literal example in the "Church Police" sketch. The mystery of the murder is solved by... The Church Police beseeching God for an answer. The Hand of God is immediately lowered onto the set (by a crane no less) and points out the killer. Very much Played for Laughs.
  • Planned but unused literal example: Mortal Kombat: Conquest's finale has Shao Kahn having an army kill almost all of the good guys, and gloating about this to the lone survivor Raiden. The plan was that Shao had broken the rules, so the Elder Gods would push the Reset Button.
  • When the time came for hosting duties to be handed over on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Joel Robinson's escape was facilitated by a hidden escape pod actually called the Deus Ex Machina; the explanation for its remaining undiscovered throughout the run of the series was that it had been hidden in a crate of Hamdingers, a particularly repulsive snack food that none of the crew wanted to touch.
    • In the episode Space Mutiny, the existence of three more escape pods is revealed... only for them to be destroyed in a mock space battle between Tom, Crow, and Gypsy since the idea of using them for escaping never occurred to any of the 'bots.
  • In Season 3 of Once Upon a Time, only Light Magic can defeat the big bad. However, Emma, the only character who can use it loses the ability to use magic due to a curse. Instead, Regina inexplicably becomes able to use Light Magic. To make matters worse, it's never really brought up nor does Regina ever use Light Magic again. The trope appears again quite literally at the end of Season 5 where Zeus makes his first series appearance in the final minute of the season finale to return Hook to life.
  • Person of Interest's Season 3 finale is named "Deus Ex Machina". Completely averted since the Machine does not pull something out of nowhere to save the characters, Samaritan goes online and begins to pass judgement on a large portion of Americans, Root's servers merely give Samaritan a blind spot to certain people (namely herself, her hacker squad, Finch, Reese and Shaw), the Library is abandoned and ransacked, and the last we see of our main characters are them parting ways with completely new identities. Greer wins and asks Samaritan what its commands for Decima are.
  • In the finale of Power Rangers in Space, Zordon pulls off an I Cannot Self-Terminate suicide bomber attack that kills all the villains, transforms the redeemable ones into Human Aliens free of the taint of evil magic, and brings the red ranger's dead sister back to life after a few minute delay, neatly tying up all the loose ends of the series. And it was awesome.
  • Prison Break season four opens with Sucre, Bellick, and T-Bag somehow escaped from Sona. T-Bag could actually be explained, but not the other two.
  • The producers of the Aussie soap Return to Eden were sort of forced into making one to tie up the loose ends from the final ep's Cliffhanger ending, under the belief that they couldn't sell a show like that overseas. Video.
  • The Series 1 finale of Sherlock ended with a Diabolus ex Machina (described on the Diabolus page) that set up a Mexican Standoff, creating a Cliffhanger ending for that series. Said cliffhanger is ended within the first two minutes of the premiere episode of Series 2 via this trope. How was the standoff resolved? Moriarty, right before he can command his snipers to shoot Sherlock and John, receives a convenient business call from Irene Adler. He decides to leave to take care of this, and spares Sherlock and John completely on a whim as a result. (As Sherlock puts it, he "got a better offer.")
  • In Smallville, Lois Lane's "military connections" sure solve a lot of problems.
  • Stargate Atlantis featured several Deus Ex Machinas in the form of the Daedalus ship.
  • In Stargate SG-1's fan-special 200, this trope (among others) is parodied and lampshaded by the characters. The Deus Ex Machina comes in the form of the Asgard beaming the heroes out of danger Just in Time, which happened a few times in the show normal.
    • Subverted in "Lockdown". The SGC has the bodiless Anubis running loose possessing people in an attempt to get through the stargate. Eventually, they try a plan meant to invoke this on the part of the Ancients by trying to provoke Anubis to use his ascended powers, which would in turn provoke the Ancients by violating their Alien Non-Interference Clause. It doesn't work; Anubis possesses the right combination of people to get through the gate.
  • Happened in several Star Trek: The Original Series episodes.
    • "Charlie X". At the end the Thasians show up and take Charlie away.
    • In "Shore Leave", after the Enterprise crew faces innumerable threats to their safety, the Keeper shows up and reveals that the planet is just an amusement park.
    • In "The Squire of Gothos", just as Trelane is about to destroy Captain Kirk his parents appear and make him come inside.
    • In "Errand of Mercy", the Organians appear throughout the episode to be complete pacifists and helpless victims: at the end they reveal themselves as superbeings who calmly stop the war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. This one is excusable considering the real drama of the story is that each side is confounded by the incomprehensible behaviour of the placid natives, only to be stunned when the superbeings finally show who is really in charge.
  • The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Sacrifice of Angels" is resolved with a Deus ex Wormhole. Sisko is faced with thousands of Jem'Hadar ships that are about to come through the wormhole, and is determined to take out as many as he can. The Prophets, however, don't want to see Sisko die, and try to convince him not to do so. Sisko ends up having to goad the Prophets into stopping the ships themselves for the good of Bajor. The Prophets agree, but note that Sisko will have to pay a "penance" later on for this, which comes to pass in the series finale. Note that this is an unusual example as the Prophets are well-established in Deep Space Nine's mythos, but they had never intervened so drastically in mundane matters before. Showrunner Ira Steven Behr viewed it as the next step in their relationship with Sisko; fan opinion is divided on whether he succeeded.
  • The Next Generation has their very own Deus ex Personae in Q, the mischievous, omnipotent alien from the Q Continuum, who solves problems with a literal snap of his fingers and a flash of light. When he sends the Enterprise a few thousand light years away to encounter the Borg, and subsequently sees the entire crew about to be assimilated after being severely outgunned, only a plea from Picard convinces Q to return the ship to the Federation. It didn't stop the Borg from barreling toward the Alpha Quadrant over the next year to stage their attack, but it gave the Federation some time to prepare for it.
  • Supernatural, "All Hell Breaks Loose": Okay, so the gates of hell had been opened but it's still a bit unbelievable/convenient that just as Azazel is about to shoot a restrained Dean, Sparkly!John fights him off just in time for Dean to get the Colt and finally kill the Big Bad himself.
    • There are also several cases of literal versions, as God himself beams Sam and Dean out of Lucifer's way in the fifth season premiere, and resurrects Castiel twice.
  • 2 Broke Girls: Episode "And Not-so-Sweet Charity": The girls are about to lose their cupcake shop when they appeal to Caroline's heretofore unmentioned rich Aunt Charity, who writes them a check. However, this is inverted when she stops payment on the check, which she signed while on painkillers.
    • Inverted by the end of that episode. Right after Caroline and Max sign the paperwork agreeing to a buyout of the lease on their months-old cupcake shop, a car crashes into the shop. Instead of saving them, this improbable event guarantees that there will be no going back, and the two will have to start working their way up from scratch again.
    • The car crashing through the window and/or the Aunt Charity canceling the check actually does save them in the end. It means that had they been able to keep the shop, paying for the damage would have ruined them financially and they'd be screwed. But now, it's not their problem!
  • At the end of 1984's V: The Final Battle, Diana has activated a thermonuclear device that will destroy Earth. All attempts to deactivate it or remove it from Earth's atmosphere fail. At this time, Half-Human Hybrid Elizabeth, who is only a few weeks old but has aged inexplicably to a 10 year-old, steps forward, grabs the doomsday device, begins to sparkle and glow, and somehow deactivates the nuke. There is absolutely no suggestion at any earlier time that Elizabeth might have magical powers, nor are magical powers any part of the preceding nine and a half hours of the science fiction miniseries.
    • In A.C. Crispin's novelization, instead of sparkle-glow, Elizabeth hacks into the doomsday weapon's countdown sequence, and inserts an infinite loop. This was at least somewhat more justifiable, in that the novel contains earlier scenes in which Elizabeth was seen demonstrating a knack for mathematical puzzle-solving to go along with her unusually-rapid physical growth. The change to Sparkly Psychic Powers was the due to the usual Executive Meddling, because we all know that Viewers Are Morons and wouldn't be able to get their heads around the idea of a 6-year-old alien star child being able to hack a computer.


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