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Diabolus ex Machina

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"This is not the convenient plot twist that saves our heroes. This is the convenient plot twist that makes them even more screwed."
Ryan MC, Two Evil Scientists

Diabolus ex Machina (Devil from the Machine) is the Evil Counterpart of Deus ex Machina: the introduction of an unexpected new event, character, ability, or object designed to ensure that things suddenly get much worse for the protagonists, much better for the villains, or both. This could also be called Acute Dramatic Necessity Disorder.

Observers of this trope should note three things:

  1. Diabolus ex Machina is often brought in simply because if the villain were to lose, the story would be over. Like the Deus ex Machina, it only applies if it comes out of left field.
  2. Like the Deus ex Machina, a Diabolus ex Machina does not necessarily occur at the end. Though it often overlaps with Ending Tropes, it should not be confused for one.
  3. The Diabolus ex Machina, while a very common Pet-Peeve Trope when used for a Downer Ending, can be pulled off — see the entire "Rule of X" series of tropes.

If a movie ends with a "Take a Moment to Catch Your Death" for the last surviving character, it may be this. Also see Not Quite Saved Enough. Compare Diabolus ex Nihilo, Ass Pull, and Cruel Twist Ending, as well as Life Will Kill You. Often the cause of a Sudden Downer Ending. Likely to be employed by writers who believe that True Art Is Angsty. If the ending is fine, but then the sequel makes it meaningless, that's a Happy Ending Override.

Please note that the examples below will contain lots of ending spoilers, as many tend to be on the tail-end of stories. But we'll try to keep you from getting too spoiled.


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    Comic Books 
  • Blue Is the Warmest Color: Just as it seems that Emma and Clémentine are going to be happy together, it turns out that Clémentine has been dying of a heart disease all along without realizing it. The drugs that she took made her heart even worse.
  • The Smurfs story "The Hungry Smurfs" (and its Animated Adaptation counterpart "Haunted Smurfs") has one early on in the story, when the Smurf Village storehouse catches fire without any in-story explanation, immediately setting up the situation where the Smurfs are without food.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics):
    • In the issue before the crossover with Mega Man, Sonic and his friends have found and retrieved Mecha Sally and Silver has finally understood what the whole "Freedom Fighter traitor" deal was about... then Eggman hits everyone with the Genesis Wave and we're left at a cliffhanger which is aborted the moment the crossover ends.
    • The arc before the crossover was a series of these for Ixis Naugus: his bid for the throne happened on the exact same day that both Eggman and the Battle Bird Armada attacked for unrelated reasons. And even though some of his later schemes had failed and the fear and paranoia that allowed him to make his bid had died down, Naugus got another chance by possessing his apprentice. Of course, the crossover took care of all that.
  • The Transformers (Marvel): The fourth issue ends with one, on account of sales having been enough to keep the series going. So the Autobots are triumphant, the Decepticons having been disabled due to the action of one of their human friends, and everything looks good. Optimus is making a speech, and then BAM! Shockwave arrives and takes out what few Autobots were still standing with one shot.
  • Uncanny X-Force reveals that the Age of Apocalypse reality had been positively slammed with this, and off-panel no less, since we last saw it. The eponymous dictator was dead and everyone seemed to be starting to rebuild their lives... and then the Celestials showed up, judging that Earth must be destroyed. Wolverine cuts a deal with the Celestials: he will function as their agent on Earth if they spare the planet. The Celestials accept and transform Wolverine with their technology. Now, who was the last guy they did this to? Oh, right, Apocalypse himself. Needless to say, it doesn't end well: pogroms against baseline humans are initiated, Rogue and Magneto's preteen son is eaten by a villain, and by the end of the arc that reveals all this, only two of the reality's X-Men are left alive.
  • A very confusing one in Vampirella: "Vampis Feary Tales - Metifa" shows a Deus ex Machina as this trope. Metifa, Satan's woman, just wants to show off to an old man by playing with fire. The old man is very unimpressed, demasks as God and smites her.
  • It's also a favorite of The Walking Dead. Was it really necessary for Rick to lose his hand, his wife, and his newborn daughter?
  • Occurs in a number of What If? issues from Marvel. One occurrence dealt with the story arc where Captain America became The Captain when the US Government had replaced him with John Walker. It looks like Cap's won in the what-if and everything's going to be great with him still Captain America when suddenly Red Skull orders his sleeper agent to shoot Captain America in the back of the head in the middle of the news conference announcing the positive resolution of things. Cap's promptly killed, Walker in taking his place ends up going on a bloody rampage, the identity of Captain America is retired and Red Skull sits back sipping his wine reveling over his victory.
  • X-Men: Messiah Complex. The X-Men have finally defeated all of their enemies and Cyclops has given the mutant baby to Cable to take into the future. Everything seems great. Until Bishop, who's been trying to kill the baby to prevent his horrible future, shoots at the baby and Cable. And Cable is already disappearing from that point in time, leaving the shot to go through and hit Professor X in the head. It really sucks to be a mutant. Granted he got better since this is a comic book and Professor X missing at the end was a hint.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Funky Winkerbean, Wally (nephewnote  of the title character) has just returned from a trip to Iraq, with his new bride and newly adopted orphaned waif in tow. The future looks bright for the young Winkerbeans... until Wally gets a letter from the Army telling him that he was technically A.W.O.L., because his discharge was issued one day too early. As a result, Wally is ordered back to active duty to serve a full year's tour of duty. The readership was pretty sure that discharges don't work like that (even the ones incorrectly filed) and could've fought the order if he wanted (and almost certainly won). But he fought the war instead. As an extra kick in the metaphorical nads, Becky finds out she's pregnant just in time for Wally to get shipped off. An extra EXTRA kick was administered when the second Time Skip came about and Wally was nowhere to be found. Turns out that for the entire second Time Skip, Wally was held captive by insurgents.

    Ironically, the author's complete ignorance on military discharges was such that he overlooked an entirely legal way to suddenly recall Wally to service. All initial enlistment contracts are for eight years of service obligation, not four. The typical arrangement is only four years of active duty and then four more years of "Individual Ready Reserve" status, the practical upshot being that short of medical disability, Bad Conduct Discharge, etc., you can be yanked back in entirely at their discretion up until eight years have passed since your initial enlistment. The recruiter is required to make darn sure you understand this before you sign.
  • Peanuts:
    • If you're going into the funny pages, Charlie Brown learned that the demon of heartbreaking sports losses can attack after the end of the game, when he has a rare win stripped from him over a "gambling scandal" (Rerun betting Snoopy a nickel that they would win).
    • Also, the fire that destroyed Snoopy's doghouse in 1966 seemed to come out of nowhere.
  • Curtis: *GULP!* It's Derrick and "Onion"!

    Fan Works 
  • The cheesy yet fairly popular Half-Life fanfic series, Half-Life: Full Life Consequences, uses this as a Sequel Hook: The first installment ends with "the next boss" coming out of nowhere and stepping on Gordon Freeman, setting up for a sequel that centers around John Freeman hunting down the next boss. Adding to the bizarreness, our heroes had just defeated the "Final Boss", which by all rights should preclude any more bosses showing up.
    • And the second installment, after the defeat of the evil boss, ends with the dead Gordon Freeman becoming a zombie goast.
    • This is followed up with a glorious Deus ex Machina in the third chapter, when even further into the future, John Freeman descends from the heavens to assist his son in defeating the Combines and sending them back to science and outer space.
  • Star Trek: Voyager Virtual Season 8 uses one of these after the crew is almost home, getting them lost again in order to fix a few plot holes as well as to set up a more satisfying climactic battle in Virtual Season 9.
  • The Powerpuff Girls Dark Fic series Immortality Syndrome has several of these, but the biggest comes in Immortality Relapse at the climax, when Boomer Face Heel Turns and survives impalement long enough to trigger the death of the world.
  • There's a Crossover fanfiction for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Chris-Chan. One of the chapters introduces a device actually called the "Diabolus ex-Machina," which serves its purpose of throwing the direction of the conflict in favor of the villains. If that isn't enough Lampshade Hanging, the chapter it's introduced is called "Diabolus ex Machina? Never Heard Of It!"
  • In the Daria fanfic Triumph of the Retart, Daria and her new boyfriend, Author Avatar David MacAllister, are finally settling down after surviving David's run for Student Government President, during which he was the target of beatings and an assassination attempt. Just as it seems that they've earned their happy ending, David is killed by a suicide bomber.
  • Sonic X: Dark Chaos:
    • Episode 75. Two fleets - a Demon fleet and a Metarex fleet led by the Blue Typhoon - are facing off. Maledict and the heroes are about to have their final climactic showdown. And then Dark Tails suddenly appears, steals all the Chaos Emeralds, and uses them to fully manifest himself in the physical universe, beginning the real final battle.
    • The ending is one of these; Dark Tails' defeat allows the Forerunners to escape - and it's implied that they quickly devastate the entire universe.
  • After waking up in a Britannian hospital in Pendragon in Nil Desperandum, Luluka manages to escape quickly and cleanly without being spotted by anyone. Then at the first intersection she comes to, her getaway car is struck by a drunk driver. Schneizel even notes that if not for that, they likely would have never found her again.
  • In the Neptunia fanfic Best Friends Forever, near the end a three-way fight between Neptune, K-sha and Noire is dying down, and although both Neptune and Noire are seriously wounded and Noire additionally exhausted from using NEXT form, Compa and IF have arrived and are patching up Neptune, and Noire is about to bring the plot to its resolution by confessing her love for Neptune. However, it turns out the reason why Compa and IF are there is because Uzume, Big Neptune and MAGES. are about to dimension warp over not only an Arfoire from a dimension she rules over, but also her top enforcers CFW Magic and Dark Purple.
  • Forged Destiny: In Book 6: Chapter 8, the Hunters have set up a reasonably well thought out trap to ensnare Roman, Neo, and Watts, all of whom are exhausted from their trek through the desert and have no way of even accessing the first temple. Even if they did have a way to enter the temple, they would have to outrun the Hunters close behind them while fighting through hordes of Grimm to reach the main complex. Even if they did reach the main complex, they still don't have any of the human sacrifices necessary to summon Salem. Through unexplained means, the villainous group both gains access to the temple without having to perform a blood offering, outruns the heroes while fighting Grimm, and have a large amount of sacrifices delivered to them presumably through a portal that is briefly seen when it was previously stated that portals shouldn't be able to access the temple.

    Films — Animation 
  • Played for Laughs in The Emperor's New Groove; a chase sequence leads to the villains Yzma and Kronk falling down a ravine, leaving the heroes Kuzco and Pacha free to get back to the palace. However, then it turns out that the villains are already there, and Kuzco demands to know how they got back first. After a pause, Yzma admits that she doesn't know, and Kronk even pulls up a chart of the chase sequence to point out that it makes no sense.
  • The Land Before Time V: The Mysterious Island: At the start, a massive horde of locusts suddenly appears in the Great Valley and devours all the plants, thus kicking off the plot since the Dinosaurs are now forced to abandon their home and seek refuge elsewhere. These locusts come without any foreshadowing, and once they have ravaged the valley they simply disappear, never to be seen or mentioned again.
  • When it's only a few minutes left in Planetata na Sakrovishtata, the heroes are making their way back to Earth with the treasure thanks to the reformed Black Dog, who had managed to imprison the villainous pirates within the ship... Unfortunately, Supersilver suddenly breaks out, kills everyone except Philip, and causes a fire in the ship in a fit of rage, and the only escape pod can't fit both Philip and the treasure at the same time. This forces Philip to have to make a difficult choice between saving himself or send the treasure back to Earth.
  • In The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, because Burgerbeard is able to rewrite reality to his will, he obtains the secret formula, empties the Patty Vault, and turns Bikini Bottom into a dystopia. He later strands the heroes on Pelican Island with the same method.

  • Depeche Mode's song "Blasphemous Rumors" is about a girl who tried to commit suicide at age sixteen. She fails, and learns to love life again. Then she dies in an accident.
  • Countless country songs take advantage of this, often to a narmy extent. In fact, it's a common joke in the American south that if you play country music backwards, the singer's wife will return to him, bearing his dog and his truck intact.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Michael Cole winning at WrestleMania XXVII. He was a non wrestling non athlete going against one of the all time greats with another all time great backing that one up, but "won" because the anonymous general manager decided to reverse the decision on the grounds Jerry Lawler had help, even though that "help" was just evening the playing field since Cole tried to get Jack Swagger to help him.
  • MVP's Beat Down Clan was a logical place to go, seeing as he had been a megalomaniac ever since his Face–Heel Turn in TNA. Kenny King had been with him from the start, even Bobby Lashley not being in on it was okay because he was at least implied to be more honorable than the other two. What knocked them into this trope was the entry of Samoa Joe and Low Ki into the group. Joe in particular had been feuding with MVP almost since the start of his turn and him maybe putting aside his differences with Lashley might have made sense but King had cheated during Joe and Bobby's last match so him taking King and MVP's side was even more baffling.
  • Las Sicarias being infiltrated, beaten down and cheated out of a match by their sworn enemies C4 was largely the fault of their new recruits Mercedes Martinez and Thea Trinidad. Losing all their contenders to all SHINE title belts in the process though was the fault of the referee seeing Martinez choking out Allysin Kay during a three way title match, LuFisto arriving too late to stop her and giving LuFisto the winning pin fall anyway on a one count. It also wasn't the fault of Martinez that after SHINE officials all but admitted they had messed up they put Martinez in another match with Kay, who she basically already beat, rather than LuFisto who got credit for it. But the heels had apparently gone long enough without the clear advantage.
  • Finn Bálor turning heel in WWE NXT would've been shocking enough. That it had to happen at the expense of Johnny Gargano (who up until that point never had beef with Finn) in the middle of a Hope Spot while he and Tommaso Ciampa were staring down The Undisputed Era was rubbing salt in the wound.

    Tabletop Games 
  • To some BattleTech fans, Diabolus is behind the Jihad storyline. Let's see, the Clan invasion is finally called off, the Star League tentatively reestablished, and while there are still loose ends left over (like the threat of the Wolf Khan to come invading anyway once the original truce is up, or the aftermath of a nasty civil war) things finally seem to be ready to calm down a bit...but hey, we can't have that, right? This game isn't called PeaceTech! So the Star League declares itself a sham and disbands again for no good reason just in time to cause the suddenly uber-powerful pseudo-religious lunatics known as the Word of Blake to go Ax-Crazy and start pulling cyborg super soldiers, nuclear weapons, and other stuff out of their nether regions in an all-out war against everybody...
  • The ending to the Deadlands: Hell on Earth setting involved the PCs getting a chance to kill the Big Bads of the game. After going through a bunch of Railroaded scenes, they're presented with the opportunity to win and a ship to do so (but they have to sacrifice one of their own to the demonically-powered engine to do so). Then you get to a distant planet... and the ship crashes and the Big Bads are re-released. At least the Game Master should have been implying that this was the best possible result from the start; the can that had the Big Bads in it was always shaky at best. Guess who gets to hunt them down and finish the job now?
  • The entire universe of Warhammer 40,000 was probably made by Diabolus.

  • In the Richard Strauss opera Elektra, the title character, in the midst of rejoicing over the deaths of her mother and her consort, suddenly drops dead at the end for no reason except to bring down the curtain on a crushing downer note.
  • William Shakespeare is a notorious offender.
    • In King Lear Cordelia's death comes out of the blue, transforming the play into a tragedy in its final act. Many of Shakespeare's other plays were based on earlier stories that his audience would have been familiar with. Shakespeare killed Lear and Cordelia off because he wanted to surprise the audience. This ending was subject to a lot of Fanon Discontinuity in later centuries, and many performances ended with Cordelia marrying Edgar instead ... even though she already got married earlier in the play.
    • Romeo and Juliet is one Diabolus Ex Machina after another. This is even lampshaded; the line in the opening speech about them being "star-crossed lovers" is a reference to the practice of trying to predict the future using astrology, implying that Fate really is out to get them. (Most notably, the final tragedy plays out when the Friar is temporarily detained by a plague quarantine, and thus is unable to get to Romeo and tell him the truth about Juliet's fake suicide.)
    • The famous Exit, Pursued by a Bear bear that appears in The Winter's Tale appears completely at random.
  • In Finale, the reveal that the world is ending in a week comes at the end of Act 1, and severely screws up everyone's plans.
  • At the end of Pass Over, a black-focused Setting Update of Waiting for Godot, Moses and Kitch seem to have earned their happy ending, but then Master, the previously friendly white businessman, suddenly reappears and guns down Moses, who dies in Kitch's arms.
  • Much like Romeo and Juliet, the final tragedy of West Side Story only plays out because Anita gets attacked by the Jets while trying to tell Tony to wait for Maria. Then, in the heat of the moment, Anita claims that Chino killed Maria. Tony then becomes a Death Seeker and begs Chino to kill him- and it’s just when he sees that Maria is alive that Chino pulls the trigger.

    Visual Novels 
  • Whenever the glider in If My Heart Had Wings is completed, something will go wrong no matter what, unless it's the end of a route.
  • Quite a few Bad Ends for Ookami Kakushi fall under this. To be fair, not all of them are like this; some can be obtained by simply making the wrong decision (such as choosing to believe one girl over the other). As for others, however, there are arcs where you don't immediately see the result of a combination of choices you made until much later, which tend to result in this trope. Probably the best example of this is one Bad End where Hiroshi attempts to commit suicide after becoming a Kamibito and losing his friends only to be saved by Nemuru, who convinces him to keep living. Sounds like a happy, potentially heartwarming way to end a chapter, right? Cut to one month later, where Hiroshi comes across his old mufflers that have his old, strong honey-like scent attached, which causes him to go insane and attack his sister, which then leads to his implied execution.
  • Similarly, plenty of bad ends for Root Double: Before Crime * After Days in Root A end up this way, typically in ones where he follows his superior's orders. While there are a few cases where he was ultimately right for not following them (as the aforementioned superior took an emergency field promotion and is inexperienced in that area), that's very much the minority in such endings.

    Web Animation 
  • Battle for Dream Island: In BFDI 18 Pencil loses for getting over a hundred points because of budget cuts. In BFDI 20 Firey's spaceship disappears due to budget cuts. Conversely, Team No-Name loses the challenge when Puffball lets her team get eaten by a giant fish because of her greed for prizes. In BFB 25 Leafy and Woody are up for elimination because their totems were given to them by Purple Face.
  • GoAnimate: No matter how savvy the troublesome kids in the grounded videos are nor how far the measures they take to hide their wrong-doings, something invariably happens that exposes them, even when there is no possible way they could have been caught.
  • By its very nature, any given episode of Happy Tree Friends will end this way:
    • "Swelter Skelter": Nutty trips and his head cracks right open, at which point his brain fries in the heat like an eggshell, and Lifty getting trapped in a frozen explosion, which Shifty then impales himself on.
    • The end of "Wingin' It," when after surviving a plane crash and a shark attack, Godzilla shows up out of nowhere and eats Flaky.
    • "Idol Curiosity": Just when Sniffles thinks he's evaded all the Cursed Idol's traps, the earthquake he evaded earlier in the episode somehow takes a cab and destroys his house. He manages to evade it again... and then he breaks in half for no reason, though this could be explained as an effect of Sniffles being cursed.
    • "Spare Me": Sniffles spins around, which somehow causes his head to go flying off his body.
  • Sims Big Brother 5:
    • The main twist of the season is that there was a liar in the house. By "liar", we mean someone playing under a false identity. The Liar is revealed to be Logan, but not to the houseguests. One week, there is a double elimination week and Michael Goldsmith says they have to evict the Liar, or else they will lose a portion of the grand prize (which the Liar would receive). Knowing he is in trouble from the other alliance, Logan persuades the majority and the floaters that the liar is Darby. Thus, the house cast their votes for Darby and Logan, and since Darby receive more, she is evicted.
    • Diablous ex Machina struck once before. In Sims Big Brother 2, there was a week in which 6 people were taken into the Solitary chamber, making themselves immune from the vote during Public Voting Week (in which everyone was up on the block, sans the 6 in the chamber). However, the person who lost all of the challenges was more or less screwed. They couldn't use any of the luxuries, couldn't compete for Head of household, were automatically nominated for three weeks in a row, had to eat an instant meal diet, and if any of those rules were broken, they'd be expelled. Dora unfortunately lost....meaning she had many of the worst weeks of her life in the house. Is it any wonder that after becoming the Unlucky Houseguest, she asked everyone to nominate her and vote her out?
  • Teen Girl Squad pretty much runs on this. Good thing Death Is Cheap for them.

  • Maria's death in Anders Loves Maria. Occurs in the second-to-last strip, wtih next to no foreshadowing, and Anders spends two splash panels just staring off into space before a Time Skip to his life as a single father.
  • In Bittersweet Candy Bowl, Confrontation just gets worse and worse, with every choice the characters make just making things more dangerous for them.
  • The first half of Homestuck's fifth Act goes swimmingly for its focal group of Internet Trolls. They overcome their differences to defeat the evil Black King and prepare to receive the ULTIMATE REWARD for defeating him; then a scratch in spacetime releases an invincible demon who kills their robot army and forces the Trolls to hide deep in an asteroid field until they can think of a way to overcome the demon.
  • Din and Jin from Las Lindas seem to be this trope personified. Their latest "prank" rivals the Euphinator Incident in terms of everything going to hell in the worst way possible just when things were going good for the cast.
  • The Order of the Stick pulls two of these at various points to save the (un)life of its Big Bad, Xykon — first when Miko Miyazaki unwittingly pulls the rug out from a paladin who's about to smite Xykon and his lieutenant, and second when Xykon's Soul Jar narrowly misses utter and permanent annihilation by falling just short of a portal to another dimension — after the bird that was supposed to drop it in from point-blank range stopped shy for what was then no apparent reason.
  • In Plume, chapter 9 is chock-full of this. It starts with the protagonists having captured the villain and Vesper at the edge of having her vengeance, only for a sudden appearance of Azeel, who proceeds to wreck the party, leaving Corrick's amulet free for Dom to take and ushering what seems to be the true plot of the comic.
  • Happens several times in Slightly Damned. Every things start getting good for the Protagonists, something happens to mess it up. Made even worse, since many of them double as Hope Spot moments. The lists include:
    • The end of the "Escape from Hell" arc, where just before Sakido manages to get them out of Hell and into Medius, which she had always wanted to see (at the cost of going berserk, which would have killed her anyway, albeit probably allowing her to at least get a glimpse of her dream), she's promptly shot dead by a Holy Arrow shot by an Angel that for some reason was in Hell.
    • In Weyville, just as Buwaro was about to express his feelings to Angel (with severe PTSD that's given him an intense hate for demons and anything remotely associated to them) suddenly shows up out of nowhere.
    • In St.Curtis, everyone seemed to be having a good time, with the St. Curtis Arc seemingly shaping up into a breather arc, then the army of Hell decides to break the Truce Zone that St. Curtis was shaping up to be. Also, the Seraphim have gone full-blown cultist, complete with ritual sacrifices of angels, and are commanding most of the demons.
  • Season 5 of Survivor: Fan Characters was full of these, given that the season was tagged "The Cursed Islands". Such "curses" involved having someone divvy up the tribes, but then get sent to Exile Island and have no control over which tribe they're sent to at the end of Day 3; a tribe being absorbed into the other tribes; someone having the choice to send themselves to Exile Island until the merge, but have absolutely no contact with their tribe mates until then; a random mutiny - one of the challenges was full of these; mainly, contestants would vote as to how many tribal councils they would be willing to go to with such debilitations as not being able to vote, having an extra vote against them, and not being applicable to win immunity. Miranda won the first, Brock won the second and subsequently led to his elimination, and Marius won the last although he managed to win because of this curse.
  • In the climax of Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic's Rannite arc, Arachne - who just happens to be specially trained for this purpose - manages to seal Ranna into an unfamiliar body, subdues her and prepares to kill her with a weapon made to make sure Ranna's soul can't escape at the moment of death. But before she can land the coup de grace, she's tackle-glomped by Princess Dewcup, who wanted to show Arachne her new Drow body. And Ranna promptly throat-stabs Arachne. In an impressive, but ill-timed bit of badassery, Dewcup chokes out Ranna with a sleeper hold. Which allows Ranna to escape Arachne's vessel and return to her body. Which she then promptly uses to obliterate Black Mountain with a burst of raw magic. This is on top of several major characters meeting horrible ends in the course of the storyline.

    Web Original 
  • The finale of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Mad Scientist Dr. Horrible held at gunpoint with his own death ray? The gun explodes and he survives. The Made of Iron superheroic jerk Captain Hammer is injured and humiliated. Then Penny, who has just realized Dr. Horrible and Billy Buddy are one and the same and in love with her, gets impaled and killed with shrapnel.
  • "The Grand Heist" in Achievement Hunter's Let's Play Grand Theft Auto V. The Fake AH Crew is able to get the money and race towards the Titan to escape. Ray stays behind and performs a Heroic Sacrifice to get the other five into the air. As they're in the air, Gavin's doing his best to stay there and reach their target. Suddenly, the Titan stalls, clips one of the chasing helicopters and kills the rest of the team.
  • Parodied in The Nostalgia Critic's review of Moulin Rouge!: he spends practically the entire episode complaining about the movie before The Nostalgia Chick and Brentalfloss convince him it is fine as a guilty pleasure. He then randomly shoots Brentalfloss and mourns his loss; mocking one of their complaints about the movie (namely that Satine's consumption — and her decision to break up with Christian instead of telling him about it — seem like this trope).
  • Nan Quest appears to pull one: just as Nan, Santiago, and Kim have come through a frighteningly-literal hell to get to the end, they are just managing to get out; then, just as Kim goes to leave, part of the burning, crumbling building collapses, pinning her under there where it's likely she'll be burned to death. They reach for her hand, call her name, fade out...and then the timeline alters, the hotel is intact, Kim is a child again and perfectly fine who goes off with her mother (keeping her memories), and even Santiago gets a happy ending as a child/surrogate son for Nan.
  • One exists in-universe in SCP Foundation. SCP-3167 (the Character Assassin/Serial Killer) is an entity that manifests inside copies of popular fictional written works, murdering major characters and rewriting the plot accordingly while causing all those who witness it to view sequels of the affected work as being altered accordingly, often for the worse. Its victims include Sherlock Holmes, Ron Weasley, and the titular game within the light novel version of Sword Art Online. It claims to be carrying out the author's wishes, stating "Rowling wanted Weasley to die. Doyle hated Holmes at the end. Kawahara wishes he had axed SAO a while ago." but neglects to elaborate on its other murders.
  • In the World's BIGGEST Domino Run by Corridor Digital, this trope is used twice. The first usage can be observed when a drone comes out of nowhere to start the driving plot for the protagonists by setting off the domino run before they're ready. The second usage can be observed once the main crisis seems to be averted: they get a call saying Sam's foot is now impossibly stuck under the extremely-heavy domino tower, making them choose between failing and succeeding the world record.

    Western Animation 
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks are not safe from the Diabolus. In one episode, involving a new cat dubbed "Cookie Chomper the 3rd," a Death by Newbery Medal comes out of nowhere in the last two minutes of the show.
  • In American Dad!, "Stan's Best Friend" has Francine getting a dog for Steve, despite Stan's vehemently refusing to get one ever since his jackass of a mother tricked him into killing his previous dog when he was a kid. Stan warms up to the dog quickly, until he tosses a frisbee to the street and a car nearly runs the dog over... Cue pirate cats riding a hot air balloon landing their basket on the dog, crushing him to death.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender does this three times in the Book 2 finale. First, it's quite clear that Zuko's gonna do a Heel–Face Turn and join Team Avatar, but he instead does the reverse, betraying his uncle Iroh and teaming up with Azula. Then, while Aang appears to have mastered the Avatar State, Azula shoots him with lightning, killing him, and successfully taking the Earth Kingdom capitol of Ba Sing Se. He comes back, at least.
    • Thirdly, Azula convincing the Dai Li to turn on Long Feng, an intelligence master who specialized in brain-washing, even on his own subordinate, makes little sense when you break it down. How did Azula break through the brainwashing, loyalty, and the distrust the Dai Li had towards her, all with just the limited interactions she had with them and also with Long Feng being literally the only one to not notice?. This may be overlookable if it was just a plot-of-the week type of twist against a band of bandits, but the Dai Li are supposed to be elites and their turn plays a pivotal role in both the climax of the 2nd book and the direction of the story from that point onward.
  • The Boondocks episode "Ballin" has Riley coming close to finally winning a game when the mentally challenged replacement center for his main competition turns out to be a child prodigy at basketball.
  • It didn't involve any dying, but... Codename: Kids Next Door, "Operation Elections": Nigel Uno has just led his school to fend off an attack against a rival middle school, and is making a speech as he's assuming his rightful position as 4th grade president position that was robbed from him by the Delightful Children, who had instigated the attack by the middle school. And then the guy who earlier told him that he had won the election now tells him that he still lost the election to some random guy. Diabolus pours salt into Uno's wounds by suggesting that his fellow operatives also voted for the other guy.
  • Cyberchase LOVED using these to keep the magical cure-all MacGuffin out of the protagonists hands; it's how they lost it in the first place.
  • Dexter's Laboratory has a brutal one in the original Grand Finale "Last But Not Beast," combining it with a massive case of Status Quo Is God. Dexter and his family have finally learned how to work together and were able to stop the monster Dexter accidentally unleashed from Japan. However, he accidentally mentions his lab, which causes Mom and Dad to remember it, toonote . What does Dexter do? Pull out a mind eraser gun, erasing the memories of the lab and everything after it! However, Monkey, who had aided the family earlier, loses his mask, making Dexter realize his pet monkey was the hero. So, Monkey goes and takes the gun and erases HIS memory, allowing Mandark, who was taken out early on, to claim victory and leaving Dexter to bemoan that he wished he destroyed the monster. And Dee Dee says nothing about it.
  • This is the purpose of the Kanker Sisters in Ed, Edd n Eddy. They tend to show up anytime something's actually going right for the titular characters (ex. "Over Your Ed," "Look Into My Eds").
  • This trope is a recurring theme in G.I. Joe: Renegades, where Failure Is the Only Option. Every time the Joes find something that will clear their names, it's a safe bet it will either get burned, blown up, smashed, stolen, or stabbed. That is until the series finale where the Joes returned to the Pentagon with all the evidence they needed to clear their names after destroying Cobra Mansion and defeating Cobra Commander, who survived and is ticked off by the way.
  • Hey Arnold!:
    • The Devil sure loves stalking Eugene Horowitz...
    • Used in-universe in one episode (that was actually Eugene-focused) where the drama teacher, having been dumped by his girlfriend, changes the ending of the school musical so the protagonist is randomly hit by a bus, the villain steals his Love Interest, and then sings a gloating song about being a Karma Houdini. The kids spend the rest of the episode trying to get it changed back.
  • Happens on a regular basis in Invader Zim, usually with Dib.
  • During the Christmas Episode of Metalocalypse, Doctor Rockzo, The Rock and Roll Clown (he does cocaine) sells all of Toki's Secret Santa gifts, for some cocaine. When Toki finds out, he prepares to give the clown a sound thrashing. Unfortunately, before he can reach him, Murderface's drunk Grandma crashes her scooter into a cross, trapping Toki under it. Rockzo escapes punishment, and even gets a handjob from Skwisgar's mom.
  • It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown: Final play of game, and we're looking at either Charlie slotting in the game-winning field goal from short-range, or Lucy humiliating herself in front of the crowd for pulling that trick (you know the one). Even Charlie pulling a John Carney wouldn't have been as bad as Lucy pulling the trick anyway and not getting any of the blame for the loss, not even from poor old Chuck.
  • ReBoot. The final episode of the revival season has Megabyte captured and our heroes celebrating. But then it turns out the captured Megabyte is an alias (a.k.a. a decoy) and that Megabyte has infiltrated the Principal Office and then takes over.
  • Happens to Samurai Jack all the time. Because Failure Is the Only Option every time a way home is within reach, something will cause him to lose the chance or compel him to forfeit it. Even when he DOES manage to get back home, he ends up losing the woman he loves.
  • The early episodes of Sealab 2021 always end with the Sealab exploding. The most notable example of this trope is the Gag Dub episode on the original series.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In other election news, a lizard-suit wearing Homer Simpson seems well positioned to win a mayor recall election to replace Quimby, since no one else seems to be good enough. The suit turns out to be his downfall when it shrinks in the wash, and suddenly no one likes him, and since no one gets enough of the vote, Quimby stays in office.
    • In "Brother from Another Series," Sideshow Bob appears reformed and gets work release when his brother Cecil offers him a job for a dam project. Bart is convinced that Bob is up to no good, but in the end it turns out Bob really has reformed and Cecil was trying to embezzle millions from the dam project. Bob actually helps stop Cecil and saves Bart and Lisa's lives, but when the police arrive to arrest Cecil, Police Chief Wiggum insists on arresting Bob as well for no good reason.
      Bob: (in the backseat of the police car with Cecil) But I saved the children's lives! I'm a hero!
      Cecil: Tell them they'll live to regret this.
      Bob: You'll live to regret this! ...Oh, thanks a lot. Now I look crazy.
  • South Park has too many examples to list.
  • This trope is played for laughs in Stone Trek: Every episode ends on a happy note... until the Starship Magnetize explodes for no apparent reason.
  • In Total Drama Island, Bunny is eaten by a snake. When Geoff tries to catch the snake to get Bunny back, an eagle swoops in and captures said snake. Geoff gets another chance when the eagle lands at the edge of the dock, but then a shark jumps out and snatches up not only the eagle with the snake with Bunny inside, but a sizable portion of the dock as well. Although Bunny's demise has dramatic consequences, the incident itself is played for laughs.
  • Early Bill Plympton short Your Face is a plotless cartoon about a man who sits in front of his camera while a romantic song called "Your Face" plays, and the man's head transforms and morphs in all sorts of bizarre ways. At the end the man finally stops doing weird faces and looks at the camera as it pulls away—until a giant mouth in the earth opens up and swallows him whole.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Inexplicably Went Wrong, Contrived Downer Ending


The Remote Control

After his partner Peter is killed by his soon to be victim, Paul suddenly pulls a remote out of nowhere and rewinds everything so that Peter was never killed and the gun is never taken.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / DiabolusExMachina

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