Tonight, five little candles flicker on my Menorah for the fifth night in celebration of an improbable war victory or an incredible miracle. Happy Chanukkah and happy holidays, everyone, and welcome back for the fifth night of Deus ex Machina. On night one, we discussed what this literary device is, and we’ve looked at a new example every night since then. The most recent post covered Jurassic Park and Kingdom Hearts II. Tonight, gear up for some weirdness as we tackle Gravity Falls.
Note: This post will contain hefty spoilers for the end of Gravity Falls. If you plan to watch this series or are watching it and haven’t finished, it might be best to read this post after you experience the ending for yourself.
Night Four: Gravity Falls
Before we can talk about the Deus ex Machina at the conclusion of this series, we need to learn a little about the narrative events leading up to it. In the series finale, an interdimensional top hat-wearing triangle-shaped demon of chaos named Bill Cipher sets his sights on turning our dimension into his new kingdom. After tricking his way into our world, Bill starts what he dubs “Weirdmageddon,” the process of converting our world to suit his chaotic needs. Monsters run rampant in the streets, facial features are easily rearranged, and waterfalls flow skyward in Bill’s reimagining of Earth.
Fortunately for the rest of the world, a supernatural barrier surrounding Gravity Falls prevents Bill from taking Weirdmageddon global. Frustrated, he concentrates all of his efforts on the town, which isn’t good news for its citizens.
Their home in ruins, the protagonists fight to survive in a world where everything is out to kill them. At first, they’re scattered completely and everything seems dismal and hopeless. Slowly, they manage to find one another in a postapocalyptic wasteland and band together to strike back against Bill.
Putting their heads together, the survivors of Gravity Falls form a plan. Ford Pines, great uncle of the central protagonists, Mabel and Dipper Pines, dregs up a prophecy he had come across in his research on the abnormalities that plague the town. The prophecy had been mentioned earlier in the series, and Ford finally has an idea of how they can use it in their favor. Everything they do from this point on is with the end goal of executing the prophecy and saving the world from the interdimensional demon.
Ultimately, when they try to execute their plan, Stan Pines, Ford’s twin brother, pulls a stunt that causes their whole plan to fall apart the second Bill shows up. The demon imprisons everyone and traps them into a situation from which there seems to be no escape. He wants access to Ford’s brain via striking a dubious deal with him, believing that a glimpse into Ford’s mind can help him figure out how to expand his empire beyond Gravity Falls. In exchange for access to Ford’s mind, Bill promises not to kill Mabel and Dipper.
Neither great uncle is willing to sacrifice their great niece and nephew for the safety of the whole world, and Ford steps forward to accept the deal. He shakes hands with Bill, and the demon dives right into his brain. Once inside, Bill is surprised to discover that he’s actually made a deal with Stan Pines instead of Ford. While Bill had been off chasing Mabel and Dipper, Ford had switched places with his twin brother.
As Bill struggles to comprehend what’s happening, the real Ford makes a difficult decision in the real world. He pulls out a memory-erasing raygun that Dipper and Mabel had retrieved several episodes before, and uses it on his brother. The idea is that erasing Stan’s memories with Bill still inside will erase the demon as well. The trouble is that once Stan’s memories are gone, they’re gone forever. With a trembling hand, Ford pulls the trigger.
A Memory Miracle
Mourning the loss of Stan’s memories, the protagonists lead Stan home. Not surprisingly, he has no memory of them. They are strangers to him. All that remains of the life that he’s lead and shared with them are their own memories.
Unwilling to accept her great uncle’s sacrifice, Mabel stubbornly thrusts the scrapbook that she’s been keeping all summer into Stan’s hands and insists that he read it. She’s convinced that he’ll remember something, if he reads it. At first, nothing happens, and Mabel is crushed. But then, it begins to work. Inexplicably, Stan begins to remember things, things he shouldn’t be able to remember because the gun had removed these things from his head entirely, not blocked them out.
Somehow, Mabel’s scrapbook brings Stan’s lost memories back! There’s no real explanation for why this occurs, it just does. Nobody questions it too deeply, feeling thankful to have Stan back.
Deus ex Machina, Or Dastardly Plot in the Making?
Admittedly, this instance of Deus ex Machina may not be all that it seems. There are theories out there that may help to explain this situation. Right before vanishing along with Stan’s memories, Bill Cipher spouts off a string of garbled syllables that seem like just scrambled sounds from the dying demon. Listening to these syllables backwards, however, reveals that this is an invocation that might help Bill return from oblivion. It is possible that this invocation thwarted the mind-wipe plan, simultaneously saving Stan’s memories.
Until an explanation is offered by the creators themselves or followup content, however, this miracle-granting scrapbook situation falls under the category of Deus ex Machina.
Do you have a favorite example of Deus ex Machina in pop culture? Scott Eastick of Insert Memory Card shared a great example, citing the epic Millennium Falcon rescue that saves Luke at the end of Star Wars: A New Hope. If you have a favorite example you’d like to share, feel free to leave it in the comments! You can also connect on Twitter at @Popliterary, or send a message on the “contact me” page.
And as always, if you have a literary device you want to know more about, or a game, comic, show, or movie that you want to see make an appearance on the blog, leave a shout-out in the comments!