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Only the Author Can Save Them Now

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The Reader: But are The Plague Dogs then to drown
And nevermore come safe to land?
Without a fight to be sucked down
Five-fathom deep in tide-washed sand?
Brave Rowf, but give him where to stand—
He'd grapple with Leviathan!
What sort of end is this you've planned
For lost dogs and their vanished man?
Richard Adams, The Plague Dogs

Making your villains a credible threat to your heroes is what makes any conflict interesting. In some series, most notably Science Fiction and High Fantasy, it may even be necessary for your villain to be a threat to the entire world. A powerful villain and flawed heroes will make for a good story, so it stands to reason that in a lot of stories, the villain is more powerful than the heroes in some capacity.

But there is a balance to it.

Eventually, the villain is so many orders of magnitude above the heroes that there's absolutely no chance for them to win with any of the capabilities we know them to have. We all know what's coming: a Deus ex Machina. The heroes aren't going to save themselves; the author is going to save them.

This Audience Reaction describes a situation in which, when you should be thinking, "How are the heroes going to get themselves out of this one?" you're instead thinking, "What contrived plot device is going to arise at the last minute and rescue them?"

The major criteria for this idiom are as follows:

  1. The villain, threat or situation must be much more powerful than the heroes, perhaps even a Villain Sue;
  2. The heroes must not have previously shown that they have powers or skills that would help them escape this situation; and
  3. The situation must ultimately be resolved with a Deus ex Machina.

See also The Plot Reaper, Like You Would Really Do It and Strong as They Need to Be. Not to be confused with the literal Post Modernist case where the Author Avatar is forced to save the characters.

May contain unhidden spoilers. Caution advised.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Phibrizo from Slayers Next: The credibility point was broken about at the point where he killed all of Lina's friends without much effort at all, then backpedaled, said he only killed their bodies, and then threatened to destroy their souls as well. And then we got the very literal Deus ex Machina...
  • Digimon has a habit of this:
    • Digimon Adventure: Myotismon (Vamdemon) gets more and more powerful, shrugging off the heroes' best attacks... so the Upgrade Artifacts spontaneously generate energy chains to hold him in place. Apocalymon, the final enemy, is so powerful that he can destroy both universes in one shot if he feels like it. Again, Upgrade Artifact Ass Pull to the rescue, as they form a force field to contain the explosion.
    • Completely avoided in Digimon Tamers, but Digimon Frontier gives us the way the kids suddenly became indestructible near the end. Power levels get DBZ-ish, and you have Lucemon slamming the heroes into the ground so hard the moon they're on is destroyed with enough force to take out the two other moons. The kids... just aren't hurt. The villain's final defeat made enough sense, but to last long enough to make it happen, unprotected humans were simply not being hurt by world-destroying forces for about three episodes.
  • MegaMan NT Warrior falls into this in Stream: when the main villain's Dragon is already pretty much invincible, and her boss can erase Earth and violate every natural law with a thought, how are the heroes supposed to win? By having Bass.Exe absorb the powers of Nebula Grey during The Movie and utterly destroy her as paypack for earlier.
  • That's how Shaman King ended. By the look of it, the heroes are completely screwed. Due to Executive Meddling, the series was canceled, and fans were left with No Ending, or worse, a presumed Downer Ending. The author has since released the ending, which still has Hao win- the heroes just change his mind.
  • This is one of the primary problems with the "Chapter Black" arc of YuYu Hakusho. Sensui walks in and shatters the Sorting Algorithm of Evil with a power level far beyond anything Yusuke could possibly obtain in the short amount of time he has before the portal to demon world opens. Cue the last minute Deus ex Machina bloodline power up. This is then horribly subverted by revealing the sides were uneven in the other direction - King Enma's men show up and seal the portal with a minimum of fuss. All of the damage was for nothing.
  • The whole fiasco in Fushigi Yuugi: Genbu Kaiden regarding Urumiya. Haagasu is Urumiya, at least one half. His brother Tegu is the other half of Urumiya and they need to have both on their side to summon Genbu. Haagasu has the ability to absorb and copy the other senshis' power, making himself stronger in the process and Tegu's ability involves nullifying their powers, which also causes them pain. Tegu is also trapped somewhere and both parties are trying to find him. It's resolved when some of the senshi and Haagasu find Tegu at pretty much the same time, Haagasu performs a Heroic Sacrifice to stop Tegu from being killed and he also reveals that he was slowly dying, anyway, and one of them needs to die to properly become the Genbu senshi Urumiya.
  • The final Big Bad of Zatch Bell!, Clear Note, happened to be so far above the rest of the cast, that previously-established rules of the story had to be broken into pieces to allow his defeat. Basically, just about every previously-banished mamono temporarily comes back to lend the titular character their strength.
  • The last episode of Eureka Seven begins with the Scub Coral command center destroyed, with Eureka now forced to become the new command center... except that Dewey Novak gave her a virus that will spread to destroy the rest of the Scub Coral on the planet. Meanwhile, Scub Coral antibodies are threatening the good guys. Just when everything seems set for a Downer Ending, The Power of Love transforms the Nirvash and Renton goes off to save Eureka and the day.
  • This happens in Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force, in a pretty stupid way. The heroes are currently getting pummeled by the Hückebein, a group of people who specialize in Anti-Magic, forcing them to use ridiculous weapons that don't work right, in a sort of in-universe example of Fake Difficulty. To make matters worse, the leader of the Hückebein suddenly shows up and proves how strong she is by one-shotting three heroes in one chapter. How are they going to get out of this? Why, she just lets them go, of course! The only reason the protagonists have any kind of victory (grabbing the Living MacGuffin after they disappear) is because she can apparently predict the future, so what they do doesn't matter.
  • A commonly made prediction within the Berserk fandom. Guts' mission of killing the Nigh Invulnerable Big Bad Duumvirate of the Berserkerverse already seems impossible enough. And with the Idea of Evil thrown into the mix...
    • Guts has possibly gotten one major thing in his favor, ironically caused by the Godhand themselves: Griffith's plan to obtain his own kingdom involved fusing the Layered World into a single plain of existence—before this they only existed in a spirit realm separate from the mortal world, meaning any encounter Guts could have before then was nothing but Fighting a Shadow.
  • Fairy Tail:
    • It's common for Natsu to win the final battle of any given arc by means of random temporary power-up, some of which are better handled than others. The first time was against Jellal, when it turned out he could eat Etherion, then with Zero when Jellal gave him a magical flame, though that time it was justified because Jellal was intentionally replicating the same effect that first allowed Natsu to beat him and he had previously shown the ability to use fire magic thanks to the Abyss Break spell, which requires fire as one of its components. Double Subversion in the Tenrou Island arc where Natsu and company are losing and suddenly gets the ability to also use lightning from Laxus only to continue to lose, but then it turns out that the Exceed who wandered off earlier stumble upon the Big Bad's weakness and destroy it, unknowingly giving Natsu and company the edge they need to win.
    • Zeref already has Complete Immortality as well as One-Hit Kill magic, and later in his final fight with Natsu he absorbs Fairy Heart, infinite magic power, from Mavis. He doesn't even attempt to dodge Natsu's Super Mode-enhanced attack to show how potent his regeneration has become. How is Natsu, reduced to his base form, going to win now? Zeref refrains from using his instant-kill magic because even now he's still wavering somewhat due to his Death Seeker desires, and Natsu puts out even more magic power than ever to burn through the regeneration and take him down, chanting about The Power of Friendship all the way.
    • Acnologia proves completely invulnerable to everything thrown at him before he reveals that he can eat magic. The only thing left for the story to do is hastily reintroduce a character thought to have been long dead along with a convenient black hole to shove him into... and even that doesn't work, in fact making Acnologia even stronger. Said power-up forces Acnologia to split between a now mindless dragon body and a more vulnerable spirit form, just to give the protagonists a fighting chance, with the mindless dragon acting on instinct and allowing the heroes on the outside to lure it into a trap while his spirit form fighting all the remaining Dragon Slayers can't actually kill them despite his claims otherwise because he needs to keep them alive long enough to forcibly extract their magic to stabilize his condition, which he was in the process of doing when Natsu managed to free the other Slayers from their prisons and lead the attack against him.
  • Naruto: The final arc focuses on a long tug-of-war between the hero party and Madara Uchiha as they accumulate absurd level of powers to one-up each other. By the end of all, the big bad became invincible. Madara's powers can only be described as basically every power that Naruto, Sasuke, Pain, and Hashirama ever had, all turned up several notches. By his own admission, Kishimoto had no idea how to make him lose at that point. The heroes even get a Next Tier Power-Up handed to them in the middle of the fight, and it still wasn't enough to stop the guy. The series solved the conflict by, almost immediately after Madara accomplished his master plan and trap everyone but Team 7 in a permanent dream, abruptly killing him off and supplanting him as Big Bad by Kaguya Otsutsuki, who was conveniently a much easier opponent to deal with. While Kaguya is even more powerful than Madara, she gets defeated relatively quickly due to having little fighting experience, repeatedly getting caught off guard by even the most simplistic tactics. It's a neat trick for somebody with 360-degree X-ray vision to manage to get ambushed repeatedly. In the same mini-arc, it was also established that as Kaguya is an escaped Sealed Evil in a Can, the heroes only needed to put her back in the can. Conveniently, the powerup Naruto and Sasuke got during the Madara fight turns out to be the key to doing so.
  • Food Wars!: Multiple chapters of the final arc are dedicated to show just how unstoppable Asahi Saiba is. He already curbstomps Joichiro, who was considered to be the world's best chef, and later trounces Eishi Tsukasa, who was the top ranked student of Totsuki. Asahi's ability enables him to instantly assimilate the styles of various chefs. Even the BLUE judges think that Asahi's skills are flawless. At the last moment, however, Asahi loses to Soma because the latter possessed a unique flavor exclusive to him while Asahi lacked it. But this deficiency was never brought up by any of the judges in prior duels.
  • In the first Dragon Ball Z movie, Dead Zone, Goku and Piccolo end up fighting the immortal Garlic Jr. And while he has the two on the ropes, Garlic Jr summons a portal to eponymous Dead Zone, and he is promptly knocked into it by Gohan.
    • Later on in the series, Garlic Jr returns, only to do the exact same thing. Keep in mind again: Garlic Jr has Complete Immortality. He could defeat literally anything in the universe by just poking it repeatedly. He went for this solution twice.
    • In Dragon Ball Z Abridged's take on it, the plot of Dead Zone is a script Krillin is pitching to Nappa. When pressed on the issue, Krillin admits that he wrote himself into a corner. Funny enough, this trope isn't so much in place, as Shenron responds to the wish by saying that he can't wait to see how Garlic Jr. manages to blow this.
    • Dragon Ball Super continues the tradition of not knowing what to do with villains that obtain Complete Immortality. Sure you can beat them around all you want, but they will always come back for more. It takes a literal Deus ex Machina to defeat Future Zamasu after he transforms into the very fabric of the universe. Goku decides to summon Zeno, ruler of the multiverse, who erases the entire timeline from existence.
      • The show had two different ways the villain could have been beaten in a more satisfying manner, but both of them were shot down in-story: the plan to seal Zamasu away with the Mafuba (Evil Containment Wave) failed because Goku suddenly became Forgetful Jones for the sake of comedy, then during the final battle Zamasu fuses with Goku Black, only for their fused body to become corrupted and malformed specifically because it's the result of an immortal and mortal fusing. Future Trunks then cut them in half, which would have been the ideal ending for the arc, only for Zamasu's spirit to come back and Shoot the Shaggy Dog.
  • The finale of the Claymore manga. At one point, the main villain Priscilla got so overpowered, that active readers at the time were sure that nothing but an ass pull could save the day. They did not know how right they were. In the end, the main protagonist, Claire, awakens, a process that gives a Claymore an enormous boost in strength and agility, but makes them lose their humanity and become a demon. Except that she awakens into Teresa of the Faint Smile reborn, a warrior considered to be the strongest Claymore there ever was, who then proceeds to awaken as well and turn Priscilla literally into dust in a matter of panels. There was a very very early Chekhov's Gun, however. Whereas every other claymore in existence was fused with Yoma remains, Claire was instead fused with Teresa's remains, which is why Clair was referred to as one-quarter Yoma.
  • Tokyo Ghoul plays with this trope when the main character, by now a powerful and feared ghoul, towards the end of the series encounters Arima, a CCG investigator considered the strongest of all, who's built a reputation as being essentially undefeatable. It seems this trope will come into play. It doesn't. He loses. Badly.
    • This trope actually does come into play, eventually, but not as part of the Tokyo Ghoul manga. Only when Tokyo Ghoul:re is released does everybody see the main character back in action. So the author sort of does save him: Our hero is revived by the power of sequels!
  • Bleach just loves doing these in its canon stories.
    • Sosuke Aizen was a shinigami who was already very well skilled even before revealing himself to be a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing. But by the time it came to finally confront him, he had gotten so ridiculously overpowered that virtually nothing the heroes did could even scratch him since it was always a part of his plan in some form or another. So how's he defeated? Ichigo undergoing some last minute training, getting a major power up that'll likewise rob him of his power (temporarily as he gets them back in the next arc) and using that to beat Aizen. Heck he doesn't really beat him, just weakens him enough for a Kido spell Kisuke shot into him earlier to finally activate. And even then, they can't kill Aizen, just lock him away.
    • And now we have Yhwach, the final Big Bad of the series who is pretty much Aizen 2.0. He steamrolls everyone that goes against him (including Yamamoto, the head of the Gotei 13 who has the power of a sun), manages to get into the Soul King palace, beats his Elite Guards by reviving his own elite guards after they're initially defeated, and manages to take the Soul King's power and merge with it. His power at this point boils down to being a Reality Warper who can see and manipulate every possible future to his whim, even outright breaking the rules of other powers if he wants. By this point, readers are wondering if there's even a way for him and his cronies to be beaten since every new power the heroes use doesn't seem to put them down for very long. Ironically, Aizen proves to be crucial to his defeat, distracting Yhwach long enough for Ichigo to kill him with a powerful Getsuga Tensho. When Yhwach uses his power to bring himself back from the dead, Ishida negates his powers by shooting him with the Still Silver arrow, which gives Ichigo just enough time to kill Yhwach for good.
    • This is also true of Gerard Valkyrie, "The Miracle". His power amounts to getting bigger, stronger, and faster whenever he's attacked, no matter how thoroughly his body is destroyed. In the end, Yhwach had to kill him off by taking back the power he'd been granted, simply because there was no believable way for the heroes to win against such a cheap opponent. The same goes for all the remaining Sternritter, whose powers pretty much amounted to "I'm invincible."
    • Special mention goes to Gremmy Thoumeaux, "The Visionary", who had the power to make anything he imagined real. Whether it was creating truckloads of complicated machinery, large scale natural disasters, or just turning his opponent's body into something brittle, he had few limits. Luckily, when he fights Kenpachi, he sticks almost entirely to physical attacks, mainly throwing larger and larger rocks at him. Someone called "The Visionary" suddenly lost all creativity and forgot powers they used minutes ago to become beatable. And then out of sheer pride he decided to imagine himself becoming physically strong enough to beat Kenpachi... except the fact that Kenpachi had survived such a ridiculous beating that Gremmy was starting to think of him as invincible. So by simultaneously imagining two contradictory things, Gremmy tried to imagine himself as having beyond infinite physical strength, with the result that he tore his own body to shreds. Kenpachi proceeds to note what a complete moron Gremmy was.
  • In [C] – Control, not only is Mikuni the richest man in Japan (and thus the most powerful individual in the Financial District), he is the sole holder of a Black Card, which gives him control over the Rotary Press and the economy and futures of Japan. Kimimaro has no means of challenging this, and there's no known process for getting a Black Card. When Kimimaro does stand up to Mikuni, the higher-ups at the Financial District issue him a Black Card, and the dispute is settled through a Deal.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure has been a decades-spanning series of weekly perils. Naturally, it has run-ins with this trope, especially during story climaxes where abilities escalate.
  • The end of the Negima! Magister Negi Magi Mundus Magicus arc. The Mage of the Beginning has protagonist Negi Springfield's team, Ala Alba, completely beaten down through the last minute arrival of his own Quirky Mini Boss Squad, the expanded Cosmo Entelecheia, which barely were hinted at before their arrival. They utterly defeat Ala Alba, undoing absolutely everything they had achieved up to that point, something that had costed them around a dozen of chapters to do, in pretty much only a couple of chapters, and then are defeated just as soundly themselves by the just as unforeshadowed arrival of Ala Alba's predecessors, the Ala Rubra. Then the Mage of the Beginning soundly defeats them as well by himself, and nothing stands in his way... except because, while nobody in his team was watching over the comatose Asuna, a key piece of his plans, Ala Alba and the rest of Negi's Class 3-A students are able to wake Asuna up, who anticlimactically oneshots the Mage with Negi's help in a single chapter.
  • In Hunter × Hunter, Meruem is the ultimate Chimera Ant and easily the most powerful character in the setting thus far. He's super-smart and can quickly analyse his opponents and come up with effective strategies, and he can feed on others' nen. Netero blew him up with a nuclear bomb. He survived that and became even more powerful. It quickly got to the point that nobody could beat him. Series main character Gon never even fights him. Then it turned out he got radiation poisoning from the nuclear bomb, and that's what finally killed him.
  • The Pretty Cure movies have been guilty of running into this ever since the Yes! 5 film introduced Miracle Lights to the audience as a form of Audience Participation, where by lighting up the Lights and cheering for the Cures, they can do whatever is needed to save the day and turn the odds back in the Cures' favor. Outside of the movie theater context, however, and it's obvious just how often the writers like putting the Cures in unwinnable situations just to justify the Miracle Lights' existence and usage, the most particularly noteworthy example being in the Suite and Smile movies where the main leader of their respective team dies only to be revived not even a minute later in a new form because of the Miracle Lights. It should be noted that the Miracle Lights and its alternative were temporarily abandoned following the Healin' Good movie, though more out of practicality due to COVID-19 guidelines rather than as a creative decision, as All-Stars F promoted their return.

    Comic Books 
  • The X-Men storyline The Dark Phoenix Saga has to give Jean Grey a split personality (before the Retcon), or else there would be no way to stop it. The writers of the Retcon were basing it on clues in the original storyline. Jean did say something about the Phoenix being part of the cosmos and needing to be sent back where it belongs.
  • This was a mainstay in the Tintin series, especially in the earlier albums. Tintin's reputation for smarts and ingenuity is only half-earned, because it was convenient luck that tended to save him most often.
  • When the Fantastic Four faced Galactus for the first time, it was clear that they had no way of defeating an omnipotent cosmic being. Instead, Johnny was sent to retrieve the Ultimate Nullifier — that most infamous of comic book asspulls — to cow Galactus into leaving Earth.
  • Invoked in the fight between Scott Pilgrim and Todd Ingram, when Scott acknowledges that only a contrived Deus ex Machina could save him. Cue the Vegan Police.
  • In the final issue of Fables the universe splintering war between Snow White and Rose Red is resolved when Rose speaks to one of her soldiers (implied to be Boy Blue Back from the Dead),and he simply asks her what happens to Snow's kids after it's all over. Rose Red decides she doesn't want to continue the war. She also realizes the entire point of their conflict is meaningless as Snow has sons, which should be impossible.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century ends with Allan, Mina, and Orlando engaged in a hopeless battle against the Moonchild/Harry Potter. Just when all seems to be lost God, in the form of Mary Poppins, descends from on high to destroy him, although She's too late to save Allan.
  • Wonder Woman is no stranger to this, especially during the George Pérez Post-Crisis reboot that put more emphasis on magic and mythology. Perez's first Circe storyline stands as an especially shining example, with Circe more-or-less curbstomping all the good guys until she gets her clock cleaned by a literal god, namely Hermes.
  • Secret Empire has this problem with the heroes stuck in space. The heroes are trapped on the outside of a powerful barrier covering the Earth. The only person who can break through it is the new Quasar, but she's put into a Convenient Coma early on. Other heroes with similar cosmic powers attempt to break through it - Spectrum, who has the power to transform into any form of energy in the electromagnetic spectrum; Blue Marvel, who can manipulate matter and anti-matter; and Star Brand, whose power is the same as the one from The New Universe, which is "do anything you want" — and they still can't break through it. Even worse, Galactus refuses to help (he's currently on the good side of the Heel–Face Revolving Door, but is busy with other events), and the Silver Surfer has decided to be a no-show for some strange reason. So how do the heroes break through for the big finale? Quasar just abruptly gets better and does a Heroic Sacrifice to destroy the barrier, rendering all the pagetime spent on the space heroes rather pointless.
  • Lampshaded in Grant Morrison's run on Animal Man. He kills off Buddy's family and turns him Darker and Grittier. Then in a moment of Meta Fiction, Buddy meets his creator who is writing his last issue of the character and explains that Buddy's future is in the hands of the next writer. He then brings the family back to life and restores Buddy's old costume.
  • Scott Snyder's run reeks of this trope, mostly in his Batman and Justice League (2018) stories. In those stories, the villains are always 5 steps ahead of the heroes, who are always struggling to catch up or straight-up lagging behind and the end of the story, the heroes only save the day by some one last-minute miracle.

    Comic Strips 
  • Dick Tracy: Chester Gould's seat of his pants writing style meant that he would often put Tracy in death traps without necessarily knowing how he would get out of them. Part of Gould's genius was being able to work his way out of his traps without resorting to this trope, but one Death Trap is worth mentioning: Tracy is put in the bottom of a deep pit the villains have dug in the ground, and a boulder only slightly smaller than the diameter of the pit is dropped in, slowly but steadily grinding its way down to crush Tracy. Any attempt to dig around the boulder will make it fall faster, and none of Tracy's allies know he's in the trap. Gould's admitted this one stumped him, and suggested to his editor that Tracy ask Gould himself for help, as a giant hand would come in and free him. His editor shot this down because... well, because it was a terrible, terrible idea. In the end, Tracy escaped by digging down and coming across a mine shaft, which he escapes into just as the boulder is about to crush him. An obvious lucky escape, but at least not a logic breaking one.

    Fan Works 
  • A humorous In-Universe example in Dragon Ball Z Abridged's Dead Zone: Krillin writes himself into a corner by giving the main villain immortality, so he's forced to resolve it by having said villain open the Dead Zone - the only thing which could defeat him.
  • An example of "Only the Original Author can Save Them Now": mirroring the final attack to the final boss in EarthBound, in An Earthbound Journey the one who ends up doing the final prayer and help winning the final battle for the heroes is the show's original creator Lauren Faust.
  • In chapter 35 of Light and Dark The Adventures of Dark Yagami, the author admits that he made the villain too strong, so he decided to reset the story by having the protagonist randomly find a Reset Note.
  • Gem Fusion Rarity parodies this in its prologue: Equestria Vlitra, an ancient being even more horrific than Tirek, effortless erases all Equestrian magic and steamrolls the Rainbow Powered Mane Six. The only reason why there's even a plot afterwards is because Rarity is a half-Gem and regenerates back onto the Gem planet afterwards.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • The original Thrawn trilogy of Star Wars books by Timothy Zahn would be a good example. Although the Imperial and New Republic forces are mostly equal on paper, Grand Admiral Thrawn holds the initiative and never lets go for an instant. Two and three quarters of the three books are dedicated to the heroes struggling not so much to win as to survive. At the climax of the final book, Luke and Mara are trapped on Thrawn's clone world at the mercy of Joruus C'baoth and the majority of the Republic navy are warping right into a massive trap at the site of their planned counterattack against Thrawn's forces. Only a series of increasingly catastrophic and unlikely setbacks in the final quarter of the third book allow the heroes to win the day. The author himself even commented that writing a plausible ending was difficult because he had "written himself into a corner" by establishing Thrawn as such a Magnificent Bastard. To his credit Zahn did lay groundwork for many of the setbacks that Thrawn suddenly faces, but having them all work out so perfectly in the heroes' favor and all coming together at the same time (thus denying Thrawn an opportunity to adjust his tactics as he had done in previous battles) was a stretch.
  • In the Sword of Truth series, the last eight or so books have a constantly advancing horde of Imperial Order soldiers advancing little by little across the New World. The heroes have minor victories here and there, and during the fighting retreat led by Kahlan under Operation Fuck Your Shit Up, the D'Haran army slaughtered the Order by the dozens for every casualty they took, but the Order had the sheer numbers to overwhelm all opposition. In the end, the Imperial Order had cut right through the middle of the Midlands and had advanced to D'Hara, where the only army of consequence left in the New World was holed up in a city on a plateau surrounded on all sides. Even sending cavalry into the Old World to pursue a policy of total war as part of Operation Fuck Your Shit Up Twice barely made a dent (partly because said cavalry was fought off by a witch riding a Dragon). The only way the heroes managed to pull out a victory was to find the MacGuffin from the first book and eventually use it to create a new world (which is, incidentally, implied to be Earth) and magically banish everybody that shared the Imperial Order's philosophies there to live out their lives without magic, wonder or the hope of an afterlife. Essentially, the sort of world they were trying to create in the first place.
  • The Night's Dawn Trilogy by Peter Hamilton paints the heroes into a corner with its galactic Zombie Apocalypse, and then has to end with a literal Deus ex Machina. The Naked God is a machine with godlike powers, used to save the human race. This is built up throughout the trilogy, with what at first appears to be a minor part of the plot involved in investigating various possible sources of external power, and the revelation that the problem has been solved before by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens. It is also made clear that the problem is likely solvable by human technology, but only at immense social and economic cost.
    • He does it again in the Void Trilogy, perhaps even more literally - The Anomine machine makes a protagonist, Gore, into a god. Subverted in that the god powers are not actually used; the fact that they can exist is enough to convince the Firstlife to un-create the Void.
  • Early in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur and Ford are Thrown Out the Airlock without spacesuits. The narration explains the maximum length of time one can expect to survive in that situation, and the sheer improbability of being rescued during that time, at which point they are rescued by a ship that runs on improbability. Douglas Adams admitted that he wrote the situation with absolutely no idea how to get them out of it, and came up with an improbability-based solution as a result of watching a TV show about judo.
  • In the final book of The Dark Tower saga Stephen King does this literally by sending his characters a letter to warn them of a trap. He even lampshades it in the note with a sentence to the effect of "Here comes the Deus Ex Machina!" Notably, the whole incident leads to them meeting the mysterious Patrick Danville, who eventually kills the Crimson King by harnessing his unexplained ability to create living artwork to erase him from existence. It's heavily implied that King himself sends Danville to the Ka-Tet as a "secret weapon".
  • This is a staple of Malazan Book of the Fallen. The author seems to have created the House of Azath for exactly this purpose.
  • As indicated in The Plague Dogs, the book seems about to end with the dogs miserably drowning, to the point where the Reader intervenes and begs the Author to save them. The Author obligingly pulls a Deus ex Machina out of his... backside. The movie opted to follow through with what it had started and conclude with a Downer Ending.
  • Out of the Dark is a hard-SF tale of an alien invasion of Earth. Near the end of the book, the aliens, having run out of other options, decide to simply destroy Earth completely with a massive asteroid, and it's been established many times that humanity has no defense whatsoever against orbital bombardment. The day is saved thanks to a Deus ex Machina in the form of Count Dracula and an army of vampires. In what, up until that point, had been a "realistic" hard science fiction novel!
  • In Twilight, Bella has slipped away from Alice and Jasper, meaning that they have no idea where she is and no way to get to her in time even if they did. She is trapped in a ballet studio with a murderous vampire, with no means of defending herself or escaping. He breaks her leg, throws her around, and bites her... and then Edward and his family show up in time to kill the vampire and suck the venom out of Bella.
  • As the Tales of the City series entered the 1980's, the AIDS crisis happened, and Armistead Maupin, in an effort to raise awareness of the disease, had Michael and John become infected with HIV, with John succumbing to the disease. Presumably, Maupin though that a cure for the disease was forthcoming, but that did not happen, and thus, to avoid having to either kill off Michael or give him what would have been an unrealistic lifespan for a nurseryman with HIV in the late 1980's, Maupin simply ended the series with Sure of You. Nearly two decades later, he ended up reviving the series with Michael Tolliver Lives.
  • Bored of the Rings lampshades one instance of this:
    Observing this near impossible escape from certain death, Frito wondered how much longer the authors were going to get away with such tripe. He wasn't the only one.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • Somewhat the attitude some fans had about how the heroes could possibly overcome the practically god-like Ori. In fairness, though, the writers had found reasonably believable ways for the Ori to be battled — but the eventual resolution in Stargate: The Ark of Truth was nevertheless a Deus ex Machina, involving an impossibly convenient and previously unmentioned piece of Lost Technology. Presumably, if it had played out over the course of a season instead of crammed into a single film, there would have been more believable build-up.
    • "Reckoning" suffers from this. Clusters of Replicators? More Dakka, or the disruptor introduced at the season start. A galaxy-spanning swarm of Replicators that almost instantly adapts to weapons used against them? Meh, let's use the previously unmentioned Ancient superweapon that wipes them all at once. It seems that (repeatedly) the writers decided that the Replicators had outlived their usefulness to the plot and handed the heroes a never-before hinted at way to eliminate them, then changed their minds and nullified the heroes' advantage so that the Replicators could be a threat again... requiring them to hand the heroes a new way of winning.
  • Russell T Davies did a good job resurrecting Doctor Who after its long hiatus, but he was not very good at writing a satisfying finale to the series broadcast while he was executive producer. He was very bad in that particular area, in fact, so the finale of each Davies series suffered from this trope. A huge fleet of Daleks? Rose looks into the Time Vortex and briefly becomes a Physical God, destroying all of them. Unlimited armies of Daleks and Cybermen? Easy, use something that takes them all out at once. The Master rules the Earth? The Doctor becomes Tinkerbell Jesus to save everyone. Another army of Daleks with the power to DESTROY! REALITY! ITSELF!? Donna develops 1337 Time Lord hacking skills and... they explode, somehow. The Master has turned everyone on Earth into copies of himself? The Time Lord President Rassilon fixes it with a flick of his wrist. This has led to the term "Davies Ex Machina" being coined by fans.
    • Invoked, inverted, subverted, played with, tap-danced on, and turned sideways in the fifth series finale: with Amy dead, Rory an Auton, the Doctor locked in the inescapable Pandorica, the TARDIS exploding with River inside it, and every star and every planet winking out of existence; everything is hopeless until the Doctor suddenly appears out of thin air and gives Rory the solution to everything. It promptly turns out to be a paradox operating under a Stable Time Loop that breaks all kinds of rules and which the Doctor is only doing because the entire universe is about to be destroyed anyway and the multiple layers of paradoxes cause all kinds of major difficulties for the characters throughout the episode.
    • Quasi-lampshaded in "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS", where Clara moans that there should be a 'big friendly button' that pressing it magically solves the problem. At the end of the episode, when reality itself has broken down, she finds a button with the words Big Friendly Button carved into it, presses it gets her hand burned by its scalding heat when she picks it up, drops it in the direction of the Doctor, and he presses it, and it solves the problem. Arguably not this trope, however, given 1) the perfect memory of Gallifreyans (when they're paying attention, anyway) allowing the Doctor to remember the exact phrase that Clara used, 2) the Doctor having the whole episode to think through what happened and how to fix it if only he could get back to the point in time where it occurred, and 3) the Doctor writing Clara's exact phrase on the button so as to specifically get their past selves' attention (which he obviously does).
    • Played Straight in "The Time of the Doctor". The Doctor has been given a new set of regenerations from the Time Lords. That's great! But he's still surrounded by a Dalek armada that wants to kill him. That's not so great. But wait! Regeneration energy can be weaponized and is powerful enough to destroy the Dalek fleet while they just fly around and don't shoot the guy who is attacking them! Hooray!
    • Also played straight in the Series 10 finale. "World Enough and Time"/"The Doctor Falls" is bridged by a Cliffhanger in which the Doctor is faced with his companion Bill Potts having been fully Cyber-converted, which he has never been able to undo on his own, and the next episode puts him in a position where he cannot seek out a solution elsewhere. Moreover, in the denouement he is completely helpless to do anything due to dying on a battlefield. BUT THEN Heather, last seen as a shapeshifting time-and-spaceship in the season premiere, returns to true love Bill having reasserted her personality, brought her powers under control, and gained new ones to boot in the interim. She promptly turns Bill into a similar being and they take the Doctor back to the TARDIS, with Bill hoping against hope he'll come back as they leave for greener pastures. Turns out her tears in her new form are enough to jump start his body (though he is still resisting regeneration as of the Ray Of Hope Ending, leading into his Grand Finale). Hooray!
  • The Grand Finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is spectacularly anticlimactic, seeing as the army of Elite Mooks is easily defeated by two separate Ass Pulls. The fact that the season's Big Bad is incorporeal, and cannot be directly foughtnote  (thus shooting down any chance of a satisfying Final Battle against it to begin with) does not help matters.
  • Inverted in Power Rangers: Dino Thunder: the last Monster of the Week is able to survive a Deus ex Machina style Finishing Move. Except for the fact it doesn't, it dies and the footage is then played backwards to revive it. They then pull another Deus ex Machina to kill it by sacrificing their zords even though they still had Megazords they hadn't even used yet. Later in the episode the Big Bad is shown to be Not Quite Dead and in the ground battle survives a hit from the Red Rangers Battlizer, gets up and proceeds to split into 4 copies. Which they can only stop with a type 3 Deus ex Machina (the episode seemed to love those). Worse, the one time they had used that type 3 it wasn't in the real world, it was in a comic book world making it a type 2.
  • Supernatural gets like this sometimes. The Winchesters have no magical abilities of their own and routinely go up against demons and monsters with telekinesis or other powers that render the boys' weapons (even the magical ones) totally useless. Yet somehow something always allows the boys to pull out a win. Actually an in-universe exploited trope in the early seasons when the Winchesters realized that they were essentially fated to be the protagonist and antagonist in a story being mutually written by the cooperative forces of heaven and hell who are in turn really being manipulated by the almighty God. They dove right in to several obviously inescapable situations simply because they knew by season 4 that either fate or divine providence would save them, or if they died the angels would haul them right back. Death was not particularly amused by these stunts.
  • 24 pulled this in the seventh season when Jack is infected with a bioweapon and is going to die in hours. The doctor in charge of his condition explicitly states that there is absolutely no cure. Then suddenly in the next hour she reveals that there is an experimental treatment that could potentially exist.
  • Game of Thrones: The White Walkers army can't be stopped, their leader can raise all his fallen enemies by waving his hands and the good guys just lost their Weaksauce Weakness in a fire. Thankfully for The Hero the TV producers confirmed the fan theory that Valyrian sword works on them too or it would have been even more hopeless.
  • For its final two seasons, Person of Interest pit its heroes in a losing battle against the forces behind Samaritan, an artificial intelligence covertly exerting ever-greater control over humanity. In the series' final season, Harold Finch pit the Machine, his own A.I., against Samaritan in a series of simulations, which the Machine never won. In the end, it takes a computer virus that had apparently always existed but had never been mentioned to weaken Samaritan enough for it to be destroyed, which it does in the space of two episodes. This goes a step further by completely ignoring the Achilles' Heel Samaritan already had (cutting off its connection to the NSA) in favor of a solution that causes more problems than it solves.
  • The Vampire Diaries' fifth season finale ends with Damon and Bonnie trapped on The Other Side, the afterlife for magical creatures, just as the dimension is about to collapse. The episode ends with the two accepting their fate as the scene Fades To White. The next episode reveals that they are trapped in a prison dimension. The existence of this dimension is explained in the Story Arc of the season, but just how and why Damon and Bonnie ended up there remains vague and is not dwelt on.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dragons can become this if handled improperly in Shadowrun, and BOY do Game Masters seem to handle them improperly. It should be noted that Shadowrun is pretty explicitly a Crapsack World, and if your party has screwed up to the point of getting dragon'd the GM probably isn't going to save them now.
  • Always a risk with Classic/Old The World of Darkness games, where the various antagonists were usually in positions of power simply by dint of being unassailable: if they weren't, they would have been dethroned already. If handled badly, this can result in either this trope or Failure Is the Only Option. That said, they don't call it the World of Darkness for no reason, and more than one of their game lines use Villain Protagonists.
    • One specific example is the infamous Villain Sue Samuel Haight. In the final scenario, he's become a powerful werewolf who became ghouled by drinking massive amounts of vampire blood, plus he has a staff that allows him to do high-level magick as well - without fear of paradox affecting him. He's nigh-unstoppable unless he's confronted by characters who have really been bought up. However, the scenario specifically has Haight losing no matter what - his paradox-proofing eventually runs out even if the players are defeated, which results in his death. This can be averted, however, in previous scenarios, up to and including killing Haight before he's acquired any powers.
  • A constant problem in Legend of the Five Rings, thanks to the Merchandise-Driven Metaplot that requires major story "rewards" for the winners of the annual CCG tournament. Serial Escalation has also long since kicked in, such that one of the Big Bads of the setting has already been killed twice.

  • In Shakespeare's As You Like It, as Frederick is advancing with his army on the Duke and his followers, he meets a hermit and pulls a Heel–Faith Turn, suddenly repenting everything and restoring the Duke to his throne.

    Video Games 
  • Half-Life 2: Episode 2, the Combine Advisors; something that can throw people with telekinesis and suck out brains is scary, but something that flies, throws people with TK, paralyzes everyone around it, eats brains, that Gordon can't harm or avoid, and it hates you, and knows where you are- no longer frightening, it's in Deus ex Machina's hands now. Since Half-Life doesn't do cutscenes, they have to make do with Scripted Event Power To The Max.
  • Final Fantasy has its share of apocalyptic super beings that show up near the end before getting stopped. (At least the characters are certainly established as capable of taking out a wide array of horrors.) Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy IV 's heroes both suffer an initial defeat in their final battle, only for their friends to revive them through prayer for a Heroic Rematch.
  • The Fate scenario of Fate/stay night has a badly wounded Shirou and Saber facing down Berserker, a mythological hero who comes back to life the first twelve times he is killed, and cannot be killed twice in the same fashion. Shirou is on his last legs, Rin is trapped and badly wounded, and Berserker still has five lives left after having lost six to Archer and one to Rin, and Saber is badly wounded and without enough mana to perform her signature Excalibur attack. Berserker charges... and Shirou forces himself able to magically create a copy of the magic sword he had been dreaming about throughout the route, recalling Archer's cryptic advice and parting words. The sword, which has up to this point only existed as an image in a dream, turns out to be able to take seven of Berserker's lives in one powerful Sword Beam attack when Saber jumps in to help him use it as it is a copy of her lost Noble Phantasm, Caliburn. Granted, it had been established that Berserker could lose multiple lives to a sufficiently powerful attack and Excalibur could have done the job itself if Saber had enough mana to pull it off and Shirou's ability to recreate the sword had been teased at throughout the route before that point, but it comes off as very convenient regardless.
  • This is kind of how the characters survived a particular situation in Professor Layton and the Unwound Future. Layton, Luke, Flora, Celeste, and Prime Minister Bill Hawks are in Layton's car, which has just driven off the edge of the Big Bad's Humongous Mecha and is plummeting to the earth. Only then does Layton flash back to something that Don Paolo said, which was not previously shown (and, given the events of their conversation that were shown, seems improbable at best). Pressing a button gives the car the 11th-Hour Superpower of turning into a plane, and they're able to fly to safety. Though Don Paolo is established as a Mad Scientist, he did fix the Laytonmobile beforehand, so it's not too unlikely that he made some Deus ex Modifications.
  • You cannot defeat Giygas. Seriously, the final battle of EarthBound is Unwinnable by any normal, in-game means. You have to invoke Paula's Pray ability, which before now has only had certain randomized and often dangerous effects. She calls on many of the characters you've seen so far in the game, but even their support is not enough to defeat Giygas. Only after she calls out in desperation for anyone to help does the player finally pray for Giygas to die, effectively saving the party with the sheer force of wanting to win the damn game.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic does it with the Sith Emperor in the Rise of the Emperor plotline. He's an immortal Eldritch Abomination whose resurrection and planet devouring plans occur no matter what actions players take. The heroes are informed he's far weaker than his previous incarnation, but that only amounts to eating planets one at a time, instead of dozens at once. The player only survives from being a snack by fleeing the planet beforehand.
  • Alan Wake has this happen In-Universe. The Dark Presence is using the manuscript that Alan wrote to achieve its goals, which allows Alan to use the reality warping power of Cauldron Lake to change the rules of the story. He gives it a weakness to light, writes in the ammo and weapon pickups that are found in-game, and the numerous near escapes he has from both it and local law enforcement. It results in an in-story Genre Shift from it being a straight Cosmic Horror Story into Lovecraft Lite. It doesn't come without cost as he must take his wife's place in the Dark Place for it to balance the scales.
  • Arknights has an In-Universe example during the Ancient Forge event, which centers around a movie script written by Lava and Nian starring them as the hero and villain respectively. Nian proves to be a ridiculous Invincible Villain, besieging the city of Lungmen with an army of immortal soldiers and shrugging off every attack the heroes attempt on her. In the end, Lava is able to lure her inside a reactor and blow it up like a firecracker with both of them inside, but when the smoke clears we learn the "Nian" caught in the blast was actually a body double she created, and the real Nian reappears to transform the city into a Kaiju. Upon reading this Lava demands she change the ending, partly because filming it as-is would put them severely over budget, but also because she can't think of a satisfying way to wrap up the story after what just happened.

  • Homestuck:
    • Invoked when the Handmaid tries to break a fifth wall to allow Andrew Hussie's Author Avatar to save her from the current narrator. The author literally charges in to rescue her like a Big Damn Hero but ultimately fails. She escapes from the current narrator, but is immediately caught by his master, who's even worse.
    • Invoked a second time when Hussie rescues Spades Slick from the destruction of the troll universe offscreen.
    • Incidentally, Hussie can't save anyone now because Lord English killed him.
    • Technically, none of the events that Hussie is in are real, as the Handmaid doesn't actually end up going anywhere and Doc Scratch dies with the destruction of the universe regardless of Hussie's intervention.
    • Eventually played straight with the Ring of Life and the transparent hole retcon device. The former was first used by a villain to guarantee that the timeline would doom and, when the plan failed, it was used in the new timeline to revive Calliope and ensure she gets her happy ending. The latter was used to create a new alpha timeline by retconning three years' worth of change, anti-climactically bringing Vriska back, and resulting in a timeline with no other heroic casualties (except John and Roxy, but their pre-retcon selves survive to fill their shoes). Both elements had questionable foreshadowing, to the point where most of the latter's was through retroactively editing the comic, and both are introduced fairly late in to something that otherwise had established rules barely implying they existed before their introduction.
  • Also invoked in L's Empire to defeat Dark Star. After all; what could stop an author, aside from another author? Invoked again in the final arc when Temporary Dark Samus (now an editor) takes one of the authors hostage and causes the comic to grind to a near permanent halt.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In the fourth season of Teen Titans Slade came Back from the Dead, with fire powers and immortality that let him manhandle all the Titans without breaking a sweat. And he was nothing compared to the Big Bad Trigon, who turned the entire planet into a fiery hellscape within seconds of entering our world. It's only through a handful of plot contrivances that the Titans even survive until the finale, and they only win in the end by Raven suddenly becoming the most powerful being in the universe. This is somewhat foreshadowed by Raven being the Demonic Invader's daughter and heir all along, with the Superpowered Evil Side you might expect.
  • An In-Universe example in the Donald Duck cartoon Duck Pimples, where the characters in a mystery novel Don is reading come to life and accuse him of being a thief. Just when things look blackest for Donald, the novel's author appears to reveal the true culprit (although he has to go back and read his own book to remind him). It turns out to be the detective, who then threatens to shoot both Donald and the author. Fortunately, his gun turns out to be a "Bang!" Flag Gun.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic:
    • Discord is so powerful that his debut would have literally ended the series if he didn't just let the Mane Six win.
    • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic S4 E26 "Twilight's Kingdom – Part 2", the ponies have lost in a big way. Tirek has the magic of countless ponies, the Mane Six, all the princesses, and even Discord. The princesses are locked in Tartarus. The Mane Six are near comatose and helpless from having their magic drained. Tirek has won, and he knows it. How do the ponies stop him? When, via a sheer stroke of luck, they gain "Rainbow Power" which one-punches Tirek, drains him of all his stolen magic, and restores it to all of Equestria. While it's not the first time a power like this has saved the day, other times the power was suitably foreshadowednote , where Rainbow Power or its capabilities had never been even hinted at: the most foreshadowing it got was in the form of a mysterious chest with six locks earned in the premiere and no real hint whatsoever of what was inside or even that the ponies had found a single key. Justified as the Rainbow Power is quietly implied to be a one-time power-up granted from unlocking the chest and thus is never seen, mentioned or used again for the rest of the series (aside from a dream sequence at the beginning of one episode in Season 5).
  • Shadow Raiders: The Beast Planet is so many leagues above the heroes that the only thing that saves them from being a snack is the Prison Planet's teleporter, which allows them to teleport it away and make it Planet Reptizar's problem instead.
  • Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures combines this with Medium Awareness in the episode "Mighty's Wedlock Whimsy" (prefaced immediately as a cautionary tale). Mighty Mouse is getting married to Pearl Pureheart, only he's getting cold feet when taking his vows. As he stammers "I...I...I...," the scene suddenly changes to a live action shot of the pencil drawing of Mighty Mouse on an animator's table. The animator can't go through with it.

Alternative Title(s): Peril Rollover