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Diabolus ex Machinae in live-action TV.


  • Some people actually have been screwed over by unexpected twists in Reality TV shows, this may qualify.
    • Shi-Ann in Survivor: Thailand tried to network with the other tribes when time came for the merge, only for instead, they're told they're living on the same beach... so when Shi-Ann's tribe loses, she's low man on the totem pole, so bye-bye Shi-Ann.
    • Silas in Survivor: Africa, was swapped into the other tribe with two tribemates who disliked him, and was voted out after they convinced the others to get rid of him.
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    • Savage in Survivor: Pearl Islands, who was screwed because Lillian was brought back into the game and flipped at the merge, causing him to be voted out.
    • Michelle in Survivor: Fiji. Ten players in the game, and they're divided into two teams of five. Unfortunately, Michelle's stuck with indifferent players and people on an alliance; not wanting to vote out their own alliance member, they gang up on Michelle, who was playing perfectly well...
    • Aaron in Survivor: Island of the Idols. A double tribal council occurred where two groups competed for immunity, and both would be on seperate camps after the challenge. Aaron lost the immunity challenge, and was on a group with no allies, making the others to seize on the opportunity and vote him out.
    • In the 11th season of the American Big Brother, Jessie was screwed with a sudden twist. The Coup de Tat, which would be awarded to the fan favourite, was given to Jeff. Jeff wisely uses this and puts up Jessie and Natalie. Jessie is voted out, partly by the perceptive Kevin who knew Jessie was in control of the game at that point and that it'd advance him further if he got Jessie out. Jessie was actually quite humble about it. He was actually complimenting Jeff on his brilliant use of the twist, and saying that, had Jeff made the final two, he would gladly cast a vote for him.
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    • In the 9th season of Big Brother, when James was voted out, a twist was played to bring either James or Alex (Evicted several weeks prior) back into the house. He was voted back in, and immediately went on a rampage to find out who did not vote him back into the house, and he targeted Matt, who was sent to the Jury House.
    • Happens in The Amazing Race occasionally as well. In the fifth season finale, what the audience doesn't find out is that Colin and Christie would've caught up to the leading team, and possibly finished first, but their taxi got a flat tire. In several other seasons (seven and seventeen in particular), despite traveling around the world, it's a language barrier in a large American city (thanks to taxi drivers who come from non-English-speaking backgrounds) that ends up hurting teams the most.
      • Then, there's Eric and Lisa from Season 15, who are eliminated at the starting line. How? The teams were made to find one of eleven Japanese license plates and show them to the host. There were twelve racers.
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  • The Diabolus has occasionally been employed by The Outer Limits (1963) and The Twilight Zone (1959), as indicated above — they have a healthy partnership. A particularly impressive example of their partnership is the famous Twilight Zone episode "Time Enough at Last", where an unfortunate, timid man has locked himself in a bank-vault to get the peace to read his many books — and because of that, survives a nuclear holocaust, leaving him the last man alive in the world. Then he realizes that this gives him plenty of time to read his beloved books, and thus unwittingly invokes the Diabolus Ex Machina, who promptly breaks his glasses.


  • 24 season finales used to be made of this trope:
    • Day One: The Drazens are all dead, Senator Palmer is safe, as is Jack Bauer's daughter Kim, and the real mole inside CTU has been caught...but then Jack goes into the CTU server room and finds that Nina, the aforementioned mole, killed Jack's wife, Teri, before she fled and was caught.
    • Day Two: The nuclear disaster has long since been averted, the terrorists' mastermind, while not dead or captured, has been sufficiently scared out of the US, and everything appears to be safe once again... until now-President Palmer makes a public appearance and shakes hands with a random "civilian" who turns out to be a terrorist; with the handshake, she'd infected the President with some sort of biological agent. The episode — and season — ends with Palmer collapsing to the ground, the ending clock replaced with a heartbeat sound effect.
    • Day Five: the conspiracy has been exposed, President Logan is arrested and everything seems fine and dandy, until the Chinese pop up out of nowhere and haul Jack off, meaning he has to spend the next twenty months enduring torture at their hands.
    • Day Nine: Jack is attempting to locate and capture Cheng Zhi, who has had Audrey held hostage by one of his snipers to force Jack to stand down. CIA agent Kate Morgan successfully sneaks into the sniper's location and kills him, saving Audrey. Then a second gunman bursts in from out of nowhere and shoots Audrey dead.
    • For that matter, this always notably pops up in roughly around the end of the third quarter of every season save the first.
      • Season 2 has Jack's Middle Eastern agent ally on their way to deliver a chip that will prevent the U.S. Government from unwittingly starting World War III, only for him to be attacked by a bunch of racist rednecks that kill him and steal the chip.
      • Season 3 has Michelle Desller getting abducted by the henchman of the Big Bad right when it looks like he's finally about to be caught.
      • Season 4 has Jack about to launch an operation to, again, capture the Big Bad, but President Logan orders him to stand down at the last second since it was carried out through illegal means, thus blowing the best chance anyone's had to put an end to the whole mess.
      • Season 5: Jack finally gets the recording that proves President Logan conspired with terrorists, and then the Bad Boss in charge of CTU pulls a Face–Heel Turn to work with Logan so he can get a better job and destroys the recording.
      • Season 6 has Jack finally kill the terrorist he's been chasing after all season... and then he's contacted by the Chinese who are holding his previously thought-dead girlfriend hostage.
      • Season 7 has major antagonist Jonas Hodges caught and the bioweapon his company was developing is destroyed... except for one canister. And its stolen by Tony Almeida who reveals himself as The Mole by killing FBI Director Larry Moss.
      • Season 8 has a twofold one: Jack failing to rescue Omar Hassan in time before his execution after learning that the entire televised thing was already prerecorded, and then immediately after Renee Walker getting killed so the true masterminds behind the conspiracy don't risk getting recognized.
  • This was used in one of the season finales for Alias. The Big Bad of the season is temporarily defeated, Sydney and Vaughn finally get to drive off into the sunset together... only for Vaughn to tell Sydney "I'm not who you think I am," and a semi to come out of absolutely nowhere, slamming into their car and ending the season.
  • Banshee: Colonel Stowe's tech guy reveals that the only way he was able to identify Job and Sugar as part of the group that stole the money from the base is because a freak power surge triggered an unscheduled backup in the security company's servers.
  • Blackadder:
    • Although this is generally what's always happening to Edmund Blackadder, one of the few times this happened with everyone is the end of the second series when Edmund appeared to have escaped capture and greatly impressed the Queen, but then, after the credits, the Master of Disguise turns out to have survived getting stabbed with a sword and a throwing knife, came back, killed everyone, and assumed the Queen's identity with a near-perfect disguise.
    • A slightly less extreme example comes in the very next episode. Parliament it trying to bankrupt the Prince Regent (Blackadder's employer), but fortunately, all the prince needs is one more MP to support him, and they'll be safe. So Blackadder goes and gets the one undecided MP, but just as the violent, bigoted, mindless old fool is explaining exactly why he'll support them, he drops dead for no given reason (except Rule of Funny of course).
  • Blake's 7 is loaded with Diabolus ex Machinae. For example, people who say they hate Servalan, and have no reason to like her, keep betraying the protagonists to her, even though she has never rewarded a traitor and kills them each time. In "Rumors of Death", she's been deposed in a revolution, and she's in a dungeon cell, awaiting execution. Avon picks this time to care about anything other than himself, for the first time in the series, avenging his old girlfriend's death. So he frees Servalan in return for information. He makes that a priority over everything else, including winning and safety (usually his highest priority).
    • Servalan is some form of walking Diabolus Ex Machina generator - most grievous example is what was meant to be the finale, her trapped on a ship on the edge of the galaxy that was about to explode, orbiting a planet that was also soon going to explode. Come next season, it is confusingly revealed that somehow the fact that the ship was being eaten apart by a ravenous space virus made the teleport TEN THOUSAND TIMES STRONGER than ever before, and even though she had no idea how to operate it by pure luck managed to land herself NOT in empty space for a start (because the teleport had no safety mechanism to prevent that), and then of all the thousands of possible planets not only a habitable one, not only a populated one, but one governed by her own people... COME ON!!!
  • Bones has the Season 8 premiere "The Future in the Past". It seems everything is finally resolved - Bones gets cleared from suspicion of murdering the S7 finale's victim, Pelant gets arrested for a murder he committed in his teens, Flynn restates Booth as the senior agent in the major crimes department, and both Brennan and Clark stay at the Jeffersonian. Then, out of nowhere, Pelant erases his identity and creates a new one, as a representative of the Egyptian government, getting Diplomatic Impunity, and undoing all the team's work against him.
  • Downplayed example in, of all places, Breaking Bad. The sequence of events is pretty unlikely and mainly serves to promote the moral of "actions have consequences" above all else (seriously-woman dies from drug overdose, woman's father is sent so far into a Heroic BSoD that he screws up his job, said job is airplane controller, the results of said screw up happen directly over dealer of said drugs' house so he can see it), but ultimately, it does nothing that Walter wasn't doing already to himself.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Poor little Cassie from "Help", rescued effortlessly from both an evil cult and arrow booby-trap, only to die from shock due to a heart condition (which was mentioned) as the arrow trap (which one of the villains sets up and discusses) activates. Buffy catches it without even blinking but it is too much for Cassie.
    • In "Seeing Red", Tara was lethally shot through a window and died almost instantaneously while in the middle of the room on the second floor. The gunman was outside on the ground shooting a pistol randomly into the air and yet on pure luck managed a hit so precise that a Marine sniper perched on the opposite rooftop with a rifle would have been hard-pressed to match it. Seriously, this one's a Trope Codifier.
    • In one of the Buffy comics, Halfrek the vengeance demon has cursed somebody that every descendent of his will die on their 30th birthday, and to ensure this happens she sends a variety of demons and monsters after one particular descendent. Spike wants to stop her mainly out of spite and figures that if he can keep the guy alive until midnight, he's off the hook. Then, after Halfrek has given up, at one minute past midnight, the guy falls out of a window for no reason, and dies anyway...
    • In "Tough Love", Tara's sanity gets sucked out, but despite being attended to by Dawn for some time, waits until Glory punches a hole in her wall to start babbling about how Dawn's the glowing green energy girl.
    • In "Hells Bells", Xander is told a lot of nasty things about his marriage with Anya by an old man who claimed to be Xander himself from the future. He then finds out that "old Xander" is an impostor demon, and that everything it said was a lie. He actually participates in fighting the demon and the Scoobies manage to kill it. Then Xander decides to leave Anya at the altar, anyway.
    • Actually (doubly, once because evil swaps with good and once because the returning-home-spell doesn't change her fate in the other dimension) inverted in "Doppelgangland" when Evil Vampire Willow from the Wishverse comes to the Buffyverse, gets the I-want-to-go-home going and after saying goodbye the viewer is reminded that she gets back to the exact time she came from, only to die a second time.
    • The crown jewel of this trope may be Angel losing his soul and becoming evil again. In one fell swoop the Official Couple is broken up and a new Big Bad with intimate knowledge of all the heroes is introduced, all because Angel will lose his soul if he ever has a moment of true happiness...something that was never mentioned until after it already happened.
  • The second season of Californication introduces a Gatsby-esque character by the name of Lew Ashby who spends his current life pining for the one that got away. He even throws parties in the hope that she'll show up. In the season finale, Hank finally gets her to come to a party and talks a nervous Lew into greeting her only for him to decide to snort some heroin, thinking it was cocaine, and subsequently die from an overdose.
  • The Chaser's War on Everything did a parody promo for Australian Story about a woman whose bad luck never seems to run out. e.g. she's diagnosed with cancer shortly after the death of her third husband. The parody latched onto the fact that although Australian Story is a documentary series about real people, some of the episodes are so depressing that the events they depict seem contrived.
  • Many of the murders in Cold Case are played this way, since due to the flashbacks we actually get to know the victims and the people in their lives:
    • "The Letter": An interracial couple vow to run away together, the times (the Depression era) be damned. Drunken Klansmen randomly burst in and gang-rape the woman, forcing the man to Mercy Kill her.
    • "A Perfect Day": A woman vows to leave her abusive Dirty Cop husband for a new man and take her twin daughters with her. They go back to the house to retrieve the daughters' cat, and the husband comes home at the wrong moment and catches them there. When one of the girls accidentally lets slip about the boyfriend, he holds the twins over a bridge railing and she's only able to save one before he drops the other to her death.
    • "Shuffle, Ball Change": A teenage boy who wants to become a professional dancer finally earns the respect of his father, who had previously thought him a sissy. His older brother beats him to death that same night because he thought he was becoming The Un-Favourite.
    • "Triple Threat": Similarly, a teenage singing prodigy who wants to move from opera to pop finally earns the respect of HER father. Before he can tell her how proud he is, she's poisoned by her Yandere voice coach.
    • "November 22nd": A pool hustler faces and defeats the opponent he's always wanted to challenge, then resolves to give up the life to take care of his long-lost daughter. His Gold Digger girlfriend shoots him on the way home after he refuses to take her with, too.
    • "Almost Paradise": A popular but lonely high school girl nearing graduation makes peace with everyone she's pissed off over the years, and admits to herself that although she was loved in high school she's terrified of what comes after. She's run over by an ephebophilic teacher she refused to sleep with while going home.
  • Community: Shirley's out-of-nowhere announcement that "Pierce is dead!" in "Basic Intergluteal Numismatics".
  • There were a couple on CSI:
    • One involved the death of the daughter of a powerful drug lord. It ultimately turns out it wasn't actually murder, and her death resulted from a proverbial "series of unfortunate events" involving several people, none of whom were trying to kill her at all. Unfortunately, this explanation does not satisfy the drug lord, and he has every last one of them (including his own sister, the girl's guardian) murdered in the closing montage, and there's not a thing the team can do about it.
    • Another had a man returning from a war seeing his wife and newborn and even holding said newborn only to be gunned down by some random intoxicated guy.
  • An episode of CSI: NY involves a drunk-driving car accident and the death of the only survivor while in the hospital. The killer turns out to be the mother of the (underage) daughter killed in the accident, and thought that the other (legal) girl deserved to die as well. So she suffocated the bed-ridden, just-out-of-an-accident, just-coming-out-of-the-coma girl with a plastic bag from the gift shop. Right before the credits?... find out that, because they switched IDs if they got pulled over for driving, got misidentified at the crash site, was so cut, bruised, and bloodied that no one made the connection, the mother suffocated her own daughter, out of spite.
  • This is the driving force behind the plot, and the source of much of the humor, in Curb Your Enthusiasm.
  • Dawson's Creek: in the grand finale, Jen suddenly has, and dies from, a heart condition. It was well done, though.
  • The sixth-season Degrassi: The Next Generation episode "Rock This Town" involves many of the main characters attending a birthday party for their friend Liberty. It soon gets out of control when a group of kids from another school show up, but it turns out to be fairly harmless, and everyone has a number of embarrassing moments...until the very end, where Diabolus strikes its head by having one of the main cast (J.T.) stabbed out of the blue by a guest character who never appeared in any episode before or after the one in question.
  • Designated Survivor pulls one in the Season 2 midseason finale, with the First Lady's car getting T-boned in the closing minutes; revealed in the next episode to be the work of some random guy who was texting while driving.
  • Doctor Who season finales tend to be based on unfortunate circumstances plunging the state of the world from bad to worse.
    • There's a "classic" Jon Pertwee/Tom Baker-era Padding technique, at a time of four-part serials being the standard, of 1) ending the second episode with the exciting Cliffhanger of the Doctor getting captured, 2) having the Doctor spend most of the third episode cleverly escaping, then 3) using a Diabolus ex Machina to end the third episode with the exciting Cliffhanger of the Doctor getting captured again by the enemies he escaped from.
    • "The End of Time" involves a prophecy that the Doctor is soon to die. It concludes with the Doctor vanquishing the Time Lords and sending Gallifrey back into the Time War, seemingly defying the prophecy. Then Wilfred Mott gets stuck in a box. Which is about to be flooded with radiation. And the door is locked. And it won't open unless somebody goes in the other side of the box. And there's no override. And the sonic screwdriver won't work. You can almost hear the writers straining to make this into a situation that requires the Doctor to sacrifice himself.
    • The ending of "Cold Blood": They've stopped the bad guys, got the humans and the Silurians at least on the right track to start living together in a thousand years, and are all set to escape when a crack in the space-time continuum appears, leading to not only the death of Rory, but his erasure from existence. Luckily, he's revived in time for the season finale.
    • The single surviving Angel that shows up at the end of "The Angels Take Manhattan" to suddenly time-warp Rory back to old New York. The Doctor tells Amy that if she goes back in time with him, he will never be able to see her again as the Angel activity has so screwed up the time stream that he can't fly the TARDIS there. She chooses to go with Rory. Why can't the Doctor write her a letter (he reads children's books by her in later episodes), or park his TARDIS in New Jersey and take a car? Why was the Angel suddenly there in the first place? Because Amy and Rory had to be written out somehow.
    • Subverted in "Last Christmas": the Doctor comes back to Clara at the end of the episode after the crisis has been resolvednote  to find that it's several decades later and she's an old woman. Then Father Christmas turns up and reveals this is just another layer of the dream, and the Doctor's able to wake up again and rescue Clara for real. According to Word of God, this was done because it was uncertain whether or not Jenna Coleman would return for the next season meaning the trope would have been played straight had she left.
    • "The Witch's Familiar": Played for Laughs when Missy tells Clara the story of how the Doctor escaped fifty invisible android assassins.
      Clara: So the androids think he's dead, and the Doctor escapes?
      Missy: No, he's the Doctor. He fell into a nest of vampire monkeys. But that's another story!
    • Parody special The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot shows the old Doctors, through much hardship and running down corridors, getting into the special in the form of three Dalek suits... but in the ending, Moffat's editor points out that the special is the same without the Dalek scene and overrunning by ten minutes, and so Moffat leans over and deletes the superfluous scene with the three Daleks. It is inverted immediately, however, when the editor (but not Moffat) discovers the Doctors also played three sheet-covered Zygons in a scene that is kept in.
  • Downton Abbey is crawling with this trope in the third series, largely because so much successful Character Development has happened that there's not as much interpersonal drama in the house to play off, and there's no overarching Big Bad in the show, so the plot is rife with freak accidents and devastating twists with no forewarning. The third Christmas special really takes the cake, though, when Matthew is violently killed in a car crash right after Mary gives birth to his firstborn. All because the actor didn't want to come back for another season.
  • Endurance: During the final five of Tehachapi and the final four of High Sierras, whichever team came in last in the Endurance Mission would automatically be sent to Temple unless they won the next Temple Mission. Neither team overcame this obstacle.
    • In Fiji, the two teams who would go to Temple after the final Temple Mission were decided based on a drawing of nuts. The order which the teams finished said Temple Mission determined how many nuts each team would have in the drawing bag. Essentially, whichever team won the final Temple Mission could still go to Temple. This was what got the red team eliminated even though they won the mission.
  • Just think: if it weren't for the miniseries, this is how Farscape would've ended: They're finally safe from the Scarrans and the Peacekeepers, the wormhole to Earth has been closed forever — but it's okay! Because John is going to marry Aeryn! And then a completely unforeshadowed alien descends from the sky and blasts them into little pebbly bits. And vice versa, since the cliffhanger was why there was such a demand for a miniseries to begin with.
  • The Following became notorious for abusing this, often in tandem with the heroes' fondness of the Idiot Ball, which is probably why it slowly died of Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy. One such instance featured Joe Carroll seemingly burning to death in a boathouse, only for later flashbacks to reveal that he'd rigged it to be able to escape exactly that scenario, then had one of his few remaining followers pick him up a couple miles down the road, in a location that would've been in sight of the FBI but for their sheer idiocy, and went into hiding for a year. Oh, and the body they found in the wreckage? Another of Carroll's followers was revealed to have switched out a bunch of database records prior to being gunned down for treachery, with the body that matched the fake records also being planted in the boathouse.
  • Game of Thrones: Frequently, partially because this trope and its counterpoint are applied equally to every faction and Grey-and-Gray Morality means one faction's deus can be seen as another's diabolus.
    • Joffrey throws a Spanner in the Works of his own faction's plan to banish Ned Stark in exchange for peace by having Ned executed instead.
    • The Red Wedding puts a surprise end to House Stark as a viable faction with an unexpected betrayal and massacre that reduces them to a few children, many of whom are (incorrectly) presumed dead.
    • Three episodes later, the same thing happens to the Lannisters when their king is poisoned at his wedding and their Token Good Teammate is put on trial for it. This directly leads to Tyrion killing Tywin and fleeing, thus depriving the Lannisters of their two most intelligent and capable members and leaving the realm in Cersei's hands. Things quickly fall apart for them from there.
    • The duel between Oberyn Martell and Gregor Clegane ends this way when Gregor manages the strength to trip and literally crush Oberyn.
    • This happens twice in Season 4 with two instances of Stark kids almost reuniting but something prevents it, resulting in the characters just missing each other. It seems the writers will do anything to keep this family separate, even as they come within a hair's width of reuniting.
      • Bran and Jon are almost reunited at Craster's Keep when Bran and his party are there, with Jon arriving to deal with the mutineers — but they are prevented from reuniting. Bran wants to go to Jon and let him know he's there but Jojen Reed stops him, explaining that Jon will want to protect Bran and stop him from going further north to keep Bran safe if he finds them there and so they leave the keep without letting him know they were there.
      • Likewise, Sansa is with Littlefinger in the Vale, which is where Arya and the Hound are heading to see Arya's Aunt Lysa. Arya and Sansa nearly reunite at the Vale — but they are prevented from doing so because, when the Hound and Arya arrive, Arya is told her aunt is dead and they leave. Apparently, no one bothers to inform Littlefinger or anyone else that Arya Stark, long presumed dead, has shown up at the gates looking for her aunt.
    • In Season 7, Euron Greyjoy comes out of nowhere and creates and mans a fleet out of apparently nothing then destroys two different fleets with apparently negligible losses and thereby preventing the show from ending.
    • In Season 8, Euron's teleporting/invisible fleet strikes again, somehow ambushing Daenerys's navy and killing one of her dragons. Despite the fact that in a pre-modern era he would have limited intel about the exact location of her fleet's whereabouts, yet on her side she should be able to spot his fleet from miles away due to flying high up in the air. Really, Euron seems to exist only to magically bring Dany's massive armies down to size so Cersei stands a chance.
  • Good Times, James Evans, Mississippi. For a comedy titled "Good Times", Diabolus sure was busy Yank the Dog's Chain depriving the Evanses from having any. All because the executives had to intervene. The show was originally created to combat stereotypes about African-American families. The Evans started as a solidly middle class, two parent household. Unfortunately, the suits felt this wasn't realistic, so James died, and the Evans ended up becoming a poor and struggling single-mother led family.
  • Heroes:
    • Charlie is killed by Sylar for her power. Hiro decides to go back in time to save her, but overshoots yesterday and winds up six months in the past. He develops a strong relationship with her, and she becomes his first love interest. Just before leaving with Hiro for Japan, she reveals she has a blood clot in her brain that'll kill her right around the time Sylar kills her anyway. This rips Hiro's heart into pieces and makes his power go wonky, accidentally putting him in Japan, far away from her, so she stays at the diner and is killed by Sylar anyway.
    • In the fourth season, Hiro goes back in time to the diner where Charlie worked and convinces Sylar to use his powers to remove the clot in her brain. Almost immediately afterwards, at the end of the episode she was healed in, she gets kidnapped by the Big Bad and deposited in 1944, thereby robbing Hiro of any potential relationship with her.
    • Happened a second time with poor Hiro, albeit this time less touching and more stupid. He goes back sixteen years, and meets his dying mother. She gives him the catalyst, and he vows to keep it safe from Arthur, who wants to use the catalyst to fuel his army of supersoldiers. Somehow, for no explained reason, Arthur knows that Hiro has the catalyst and teleports exactly to where Hiro and Claire are. He steals the catalyst, sends Claire to the present, and almost kills Hiro.
    • Sylar has benefited from this trope so many times it's not even funny. He technically "died" in Company custody halfway through the first season, but got a mysterious off-screen resurrection. Eden's Compelling Voice and Mohinder's power-disabling serum both worked against Sylar at first, but conveniently and inexplicably failed right when they were about to kill him. In the finale of the first season Niki uses her Super Strength to wail on Sylar with a parking meter, Hiro runs a friggin' katana through his body, and he still survives.
    • In Chapter Four, Danko stabs Sylar in the spot in his head should have prevented his Healing Factor from working. Sylar survives, explaining that he used Shapeshifting to move the spot to another part of his brain. Previously, Sylar and James Martin (from whom Sylar acquired the power) had used it only to assume the appearance of another person.
  • In the second season of Highlander, Duncan Macleod successfully rescued his mortal girlfriend Tessa from a kidnapper ... only for her to be shot dead by a random mugger less than three minutes after the escape.
  • In the second to last episode of Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger the team is able to win back Akibaranger's timeslot from Ultra Ace, an Series/Ultraman expy, only for them to find out that not only are they dealing with the alien invasion that came with Ultra Ace, but that Saburo Hatte, the writer of the series, accidentally triggered the "Iron Clad Suicide Run" flag, meaning the Akibarangers will stop the invasion, but will die in the process! Then, we find out in the final episode that, yes, they did die as they are taken up to Sentai Heaven by the first Yellow 4, Time Fire and Abare Killer.
  • The Season 5 Finale for House: Just when you think House has removed that annoying hallucination of Cutthroat Bitch, kicked the Vicodin, and gotten it on with his long time flirt interest Cuddy, it all turns out to be the biggest screw-over in the history of anything. It was ALL a hallucination! He's NUTS! It NEVER HAPPENED! Cutthroat Bitch was standing there the entire time in his mind, and so was the deceased Kutner. The season ends with House being led into a mental hospital.
  • Several episodes of I Shouldn't Be Alive can come off as this. The people who the stories are about almost seem to have been cursed by some malevolent deity based on their awful luck. One episode had a man who had been stranded in a raft for weeks and had to drift from Africa to the Caribbean. He had just reached Caribbean waters, took good supplies, figured everything out and seemed set to make it all the way to one of the islands safely, when he went to spear a fish with his harpoon, his harpoon snapped in half, the fish did a barrel roll, punctured his raft, and swam away, leaving him to just barely patch his raft up.
  • The Law & Order franchise uses this trope to turn a slam-dunk case into an hour-long question of "Will they get away with it." Several egregious examples:
    • "Marathon" (Law & Order s10e6): Briscoe and Green catch a young Latino thug fresh from mugging and shooting a white housewife. Lenny hears the guy admit it. His word against the perp's. They find physical evidence linking him to the shooting. It gets tossed one piece at a time. When they finally corner him in the end, he Karma Houdinis his way out by dropping the dime on a notorious serial rapist, cutting himself a sweet deal in the process. (McCoy gets him to admit what he said to Lenny: "I gave that white bitch what she deserved.")
    • "Suicide Box" (s13e16): A young black male shoots a cop outside of a diner, out of anger that his brother's murder had been swept under the rug. They had him dead to rights... then the mitigating factors rolled in: His brother's death had been ruled a suicide (the M.E. who handled the autopsy did a rush job due to understaffing), the man who shot him never denied it (but the cops never looked at him). His and his mother's protests were brushed aside by the cops. And, oh yeah, his brother's body? Gone. The funeral home buried a casket full of trash (an ongoing fraud scheme, it turned out).
    • "Screwed" (SVU s8e22)''': The episode features the trial of Tutuola's stepson, Darius (crimes committed in the earlier episode, Venom (s7e18)). Except that ALL the evidence except his confession had been thrown out due to questions about Fin's credibility, also Darius (well played by rapper Ludacris) was only going to trial to hurt and embarrass his mother, Fin's ex (who denied him for most of his life). When Fin's ex got on the stand, Darius (acting as his own council) forced her into dropping her own pain-filled bombshell: Darius was a child of rape... by her father. Acquitted of the murders, in the end, Darius can't even take joy in beating the rap and rubbing Fin and his mother's nose in it.
    • "Hell" (SVU s10e14): This episode has the SVU team tracking down a member of an African terrorist organization who tried to murder a young girl. With the help of Elijah, who turns out to have been forced to be a Child Soldier in the same organization, and harbors massive guilt over what he was forced to do, they track down the culprit and arrest him. Everything looks like it'll end well...until the Smug Snake immigration officer reveals that Elijah didn't escape the terrorist organization until after he turned 18, which means he can be legally held responsible for the crimes he was forced to commit. It doesn't end well.
    • "Damaged" (s8e22): Three unrepentant teenage boys are on trial for raping a mentally retarded classmate. After a hard fought trial, the jury returns guilty. Everyone's happy. Not so fast. The judge sets aside the verdict, issues a directed verdict of not guilty saying the prosecution didn't prove its case, and piles on saying the retarded girl knew what she was doing and had "the time of her life." Add in a subplot in which Det. Briscoe finds out his daughter has been murdered for testifying against a drug lord, and this episode winds up wrist-slashingly hurtful.
    • "Cold" (SVU s9e19): It looks like the Dirty Cop is about to get convicted, but then, out of nowhere, two bombshells are dropped one after another. The key witness against him? Its revealed that she's an illegal immigrant, rendering her testimony moot. And the autopsy reports that were the key evidence? They couldn't prove the cop raped one of the victims, Novak knew it, and lied about.
    • "Zoonotic" (CI): The creepy doctor who had been infecting ex-girlfriends with diseases if they refused to engage in sex games with him and his friend, a sleazeball veterinarian who murdered a cop who may have been on to them, are behind bars without a trial. Everything is going swimmingly. And then at the literal last minute, it's revealed that the doctor got 5 grams of anthrax from South America, and he only had 3 grams in his apartment. This leads into the next episode, "A Person of Interest." The episodes originally aired as a two-part season finale.
    • "Smoked" (SVU s12e24) shows they can happen even when the cops technically win. The victim's rapist, her killer (two different people) and the corrupt ATF agent who supplied the murder weapon are all locked up, and Benson assures her daughter that they will almost certainly be convicted, allowing the daughter to see them for closure. The daughter quietly accepts this... and then, without a word, pulls a gun and empties the entire magazine into the three men. Stabler is forced to shoot her, and, aghast at having killed what was essentially an innocent, resigns from the NYPD.
    • "Gray" (SVU s12e9) has a curious example of a Diabolus Ex Machina that turns into a Deus ex Machina. Sonya Paxton is prosecuting a Jerk Jock who raped a pregnant woman, then injected her with a chemical that caused her to miscarry, and is doubtful they can make the case stick because the accuser is too scared to testify. To make matters worse, the Smug Snake defense attorney gets the sympathetic judge thrown off the case on the grounds that she is biased toward the accuser. Eventually, they do get the accuser to agree to testify... only for her to drop dead the very day of her scheduled court appearance. The detectives are understandably upset, until ME Warner reveals she died due to the aftereffects of the drug the perp used, meaning they now have a shiny new manslaughter charge to stick him with.
  • Col. Henry Blake was already written out of M*A*S*H. He'd gotten his discharge and left for home. But that wasn't enough, so at the end of his farewell episode, Radar gets the message that his plane was shot down. "There were no survivors."
  • In one of the last episodes of Monk, Monk spends the episode trying to get on the good side of the kid of the only cop against his reinstatement. Then he gets cornered by a bear, saves the kid, solves the crime, and the guy changes his mind. Unfortunately, the two officers who supported him changed their minds after nothing more than going back over his case records. The writers Yanking The Shaggy Dog's Chain resulted in a mildly delusional Heroic BSoD.
  • In the Season 2 finale ("Twilight") of NCIS, the team manages to foil a devious terrorist plot. As they are celebrating their success, Diabolus strikes in the form of a high powered sniper rifle fired by the Big Bad that drills a hole in Kate's head. To add insult to injury, Kate had just taken a bullet for Gibbs and was spared serious injury thanks to her Bulletproof Vest.
    Kate: I was sure I was going to die before— (Boom, Headshot!)
  • One Tree Hill: In the final season, Brooke was the only one of the main group of characters (Haley and Nathan, Clay and Quinn, Brooke and Julian) who wasn't really having any issues, after about seven seasons of the show beating the hell out of her. Apparently she wasn't allowed one season where none of the problems were hers, however, as just when things were starting to go well for her, her Arch-Enemy Xavier Daniels (who literally did beat the hell out of her) is released from prison and starts following her around, leaving her completely terrified that he would attack her again and unable to do anything about it because no one who could do anything would believe her. (He did.)
  • Power Rangers:
    • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers ends with the team retrieving the Zeo Crystal fragments, using it to reverse the damage done by Master Vile. Then Goldar and Rito show up, steal the Zeo Crystal and allow their bomb to go off, forcing the Rangers to watch helplessly as the Command Center explodes. Until next season.
    • Power Rangers Turbo really hits this hard as Divatox leads an invasion on the Power Chamber after the Rangers' last fight deprives them of their weapons. The base is destroyed, the powers lost, they find out Zordon's kidnapped and, when they decide to chase after them, powers or not, Justin decides to stay behind. No powers, four Rangers and against a possible army of foes...
  • The final episode of Series 3 of Primeval where humanity has been saved from evil Helen by a hungry raptor. However the Pliocene anomaly closes, trapping Danny 3 million years in the past.
  • Prison Break did this in the episode "Selfless" - Scylla had been stolen, everyone was free to go, the release papers had been handed over, and then it turns out that the cop was playing them all along and they're in an even worse situation than they had been before.
  • In the second season of Robin Hood every single thing that can go wrong, ''does'' go wrong in order to kill off Marian. Marian acts wildly Out of Character. Robin and the other outlaws are inexplicably missing at a crucial moment. No one bothers to give Marian a weapon to defend herself with. Every single one of Guy's Berserk Buttons are pressed. The Idiot Ball is thrown about with such abandon that it leaves Plot Holes in the scenery. The contrived sequence of events unfold with the sole purpose of forcing Guy and Marian into the "right" frame of mind that leads to her murder. (And it still doesn't make any sense).
  • Scrubs: Jordan (as Diabolus) reveals all the secrets and issues among the main-cast to each other at the Season 1 finale, even though she has quite few to do with the specific persons (Ex Machina). There's also plenty of episodes where this happens, where a patient who is beloved dies, but there's a few examples that come to mind first. One example is where one of the patients dies, and they use her organs for transplants they needed. The last few minutes of the episode result in every transplant patient dying (the first patient's condition, not recognized until after the transplants were done, was rabies), and Dr. Cox leaving the hospital. Another example is either episode with Jordan's brother, Ben Sullivan. In both episodes, most of the episode is a fake-out, but both end with the worst news, the first with Ben having cancer, and the second where they're going to Ben's funeral. The last two episodes, and possibly best examples, are the episode where Mrs. Wilk is about to leave the hospital, but an intern named Cabbage gives her a disease that kills her, and the episode where, after Dr. Cox is arguing with Laverne about God and his plan for everyone, Laverne has a car accident, goes into a coma, and dies. Since Scrubs is a medical show, Downer endings happen a lot, and they really can't do much in those kind of situations.
  • The Series One finale of Sherlock has Moriarty walk out fairly close to the end. Sherlock removes John's explosive-laden outer layers, jokes are cracked and all seems to be right with the world. Then Moriarty comes back, and the series ends with Sherlock and John being aimed at by multiple snipers while Sherlock aims his own gun at the explosives, which are now at Moriarty's feet.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In the episode "Duet," Aamin Maritza pretends to be Gul Darhe'el so that a war crimes trial can be put on and Cardassia can admit to the atrocities it committed. Kira decides to be the one to try to end the cycle of violence between Bajorans and Cardassians by letting him go and telling everyone that he's actually Maritza, so an innocent man won't be executed for crimes he did not commit. Everything seems to be wrapping up, as Maritza realizes that he can work with the Bajorans to try to atone for the past in a different way. However, a Bajoran drunk who we hadn't seen since the beginning of the episode comes up behind him and stabs him in the back, killing him, not because he was Darhe'el, but simply because he was a Cardassian.
  • Supernatural:
    • The Season 1 finale: John's been possessed and shot, Dean's been tortured, but everyone is alive and Sam is driving them to the hospital, and it looks like everything will be fine. Until a huge truck slams into the Impala, totaling the car, and the episode ends with all three men bloody and unconscious. As they supposedly recover in Season 2, Dean nearly dies and John dies and gives up the Colt to save him, allowing the next four seasons worth of plot to happen, as one of them needed to die and get put in Hell, and the loss of the Colt triggers Sam's, then Dean's, first deaths later on in the season.
    • "Mystery Spot" has this trope happen, as Dean's comical deaths, but it is invoked for the sake of a lesson, then reversed.
  • By way of Crack Defeat, an example where the demon is revealed after the fact: Dorothy Jane of The Torkelsons has made it to the final of a contest of which the winner will get to be a foreign exchange student in Paris. After her final interview she comes out and announces that she lost, even though she got the highest score. Because the French family the exchange student would homestay with, wanted a boy. Which made the final interviews meaningless, because there was only one boy amongst the three finalists.
  • In The Walking Dead, Rick and Glenn spread walker blood all over some raincoats and wear them to blend in with them. Just when you think they're safe, an absolutely random rainstorm shows up, stays just long enough to dull the smell from the blood by washing it away, and it stops raining after the zombies have noticed they're not undead.
  • In The West Wing episode "18th and Potomac", the death of Mrs. Landingham, President Bartlet's personal secretary, has Diabolus' fingerprints all over it; after a gentle little running subplot about Mrs. Landingham picking up her first new car, Diabolus arranges for a drunk driver to run a red light and kill her offscreen at the end of the episode with no foreshadowing whatsoever. This also contributes to a bit of Deus Angst Machina, as what with Bartlet's M.S scandal and various other crises and such, it wasn't as if Bartlet didn't already have enough reasons to be a bit angsty at the time. This example, however, can partially be forgiven in that it leads to Bartlet's excellent rant against God in the next episode, in which he even lampshades the trope (see the page quote), and his equally awesome Redemption in the Rain sequence.
    • Another example — a lesser one because it's a newly introduced, comparatively minor character, but still a punch in the gut — is in the next season finale, "Posse Comitatus", when C.J.'s stalker is apprehended and she just begins a relationship with the special agent who'd been assigned to protect her... and he leaves her sight for a minute to pick up a candy bar and a flower from a convenience store, finds himself in the middle of an armed robbery and is shot and killed.
    • It kind of depends on whether you view Senator Vinick as a good guy or not (being that he's a Republican presidential campaign in a show about a Democratic presidential administration), but the nuclear power plant disaster that occurs completely out of nowhere in the middle of Season 7 and which utterly derails his presidential campaign and ultimately costs him the election occurs largely as a halfway convincing way to level the playing field after a full half-season of Vinick being the clear frontrunner by a huge margin and Matt Santos, his opponent, lagging way behind in the polls.
  • In the last episode of series three of Whitechapel, a killer makes two attempts on the life of therapist Morgan Lamb. She manages to outwit and then outrun him, and takes sanctuary at the police station where she strikes up a rapport with Chandler. Finally, the killer dies after throwing himself off a building, dying in his mother's arms with the words: "I'm sorry...sorry I didn't kill Morgan." All's well that ends well — except that the police take the killer's mother to the police station, she spots Morgan in her safe room, distracts the police and promptly stabs Morgan to death with a shard of glass from a coffee table.
  • Xena: Warrior Princess: The overall finale has Xena execute an ambitiously dangerous plan involving her being killed, so she could go off and fight the spirit Big Bad in the spirit world. She sets Gabrielle the task of bringing her back afterwards using her ashes, and magic spring water. It's not until Xena's actually won, and Gabs (and by extension the audience) is all ready for that happy ending, that Xena drops the bombshell, that this time she has to stay dead, or her Heroic Sacrifice won't mean anything. The twist is not hinted at before it happens, is a disproportionate response, and is largely unnecessary since she mostly seems to have a massive Guilt Complex about the original precipitating incident, which was an accident. Since Xena claims she knew beforehand, she comes across as something of a Jerkass for not pre-warning Gabs about it.
    • Remedied in the "director's cut" version of the episode, which provides foreshadowing (though still a little too close to the end) and shows us that Xena didn't really know beforehand that she would have to stay dead.


  • The Sci-Fi Channel adaptation of the short story "The Cold Equations" ends on this. The basic premise of the story is that a young girl has stowed away on a spaceship carrying urgently needed medical supplies to a distant colony - and, because of her added mass, there isn't enough fuel to land the ship without crashing (and killing everyone on board), so, according to regulations, the pilot is supposed to throw the girl out the airlock so the cargo can arrive safely. It's established fairly early on that the cargo weighs about the same as the girl, and that jettisoning either the cargo or the girl would save the ship. Near the end, the two of them discover that the cargo wasn't what they thought it was, and jettison it, so they're safe now. That's when Diabolus shows up. To the surprise of the pilot and audience, the ship still has too much mass, because they waited too long and are now closer to the planet. So Someone Has to Die anyway.


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