Divergent Ex Machina: Divergent Chapter 38

Chapter 39

After everybody died, Tris has met up with Tobias in the computer room, who is the only person actually in the room guarding the technology carrying out the villains’ evil plans for some reason. Not that this makes things easier. Just stupider. [Ariel says: I bet all the guards were programmed to jump ship at soon as there was even a whiff of the Power of Love coming to save the day.]

He looks confused. He raises his gun.
“Drop your weapon,” he says.
“Tobias,” I say, “you’re in a simulation.”
“Drop your weapon,” he repeats. “Or I’ll fire.”
Jeanine said he didn’t know me. Jeanine also said that the simulation made Tobias’s friends into enemies. He will shoot me if he has to.
I set my gun down at my feet.
“Drop your weapon!” Shouts Tobias.
“I did,” I say. A little voice in my head sings that he cant hear me

Hahaha fuck.

charmander oh shit

Tris manages to disarm Tobias, and then get the gun in the ensuing grapple. Somehow. But that’s not the most suspension of disbelief-challenging thing that happens this chapter. Hell, Tris’s dad could burst into the room, guns blazing, shouting, “Surprise! I’m not really dead!”, and that would have been more believable than how this scene actually plays out.

So the obvious problem is that even if Tris gets the gun, it’s not like she can shoot him. I mean, he’s not her friend Will or anything.

sherlock awkward

I don’t know what I’ll do with [the gun]. I can’t shoot him, I can’t shoot him, I can’t. He is in there somewhere.”

Man, this is just like that time Tris was in this exact same situation with a boy she wasn’t making out with Will! Except she shot him and he died.

Maybe it’s easier to find a way out of this when it’s not your super hot unicorn love interest.

[Ariel says: The way I read that scene, was that Tris was so distraught and thrown face to face with Will pointing a gun at her that she shot without thinking. I’m not saying I don’t think Roth did it for ~drama~ but I think that was meant to be why it happened.] [Matthew adds: Okay, not being a hypercritical comic for a moment, I can see it this way. But it’s not like she’s in LESS mortal peril NOW. It feels entirely too convenient that with two such similar scenes, one was played for tragedy and the other was played for THE POWER OF LOVE. Ultimately that bugs me more.]

“Tobias, please.” I am begging. I am pathetic. Tears make my face hot. “Please see me.”

So things are looking pretty desperate, and the novel has zero previously established ways for getting out of a situation like this. So, naturally, it’s deus ex machina time!

I have done this before – in my fear landscape, with the gun in my hand, a voice shouting at me to fire at the people I love. I volunteered to die instead, that time, but I can’t imagine how that would help me right now.

Not just you, Tris.

I just know, I know what is the right thing to do is.

PRO WRITING TIP: If the only way to explain a new concept is for the protagonist to suddenly, inexplicably just know it right as it becomes important, go ahead. Just explicitly say that they know it, otherwise the reader won’t buy it. So, once again, it’s time for…

I do this so often, it was only a matter of time before I made an official GIF for it.
I do this so often, it was only a matter of time before I made an official GIF for it.
  • “But how did you find us?” Hermione asked Ron.
    “I just knew you two were here in these nondescript woods!” Ron answered.
    “Nothing led you here, or gave you that feeling?” Harry asked.
    “Nope. I just knew!”
  • “Goodness! How on earth did you figure that out?”
    “I just knew, my dear Watson.”
  • ROMEO: A grave? O, no! a lanthorn, slaughter’d youth,
    For here lies Juliet, and yet, methinks,
    She is not really dead. This, I just know.
"I just knew this conveniently metaphorical answer. What's calculus?"
“I just knew this conveniently metaphorical answer. What’s calculus?”

My father says – used to say – that there is power in self-sacrifice.
I turn the gun in my hands and press it into Tobias’s palm.

Just so we’re all on the same page here, the novel solves the problem of a brainwashed Four trying to shoot Tris by having Tris put a gun in Four’s hands while he is being brainwashed. Just… just so we’re clear about this. This is the logic that the climax is following.

He pushes the barrel into my forehead. […] I reach out and rest my hand on his chest so I can feel his heartbeat. At least his heartbeat is still him.
The bullet clicks into the chamber.

Oh my God, you guys. Maybe Tris will die.

Question of the Day: So is anyone using Ello? Does anyone care?



  1. Dana Reply

    I feel like you can’t read a YA novel these days without seeing some variation of the “I just somehow knew” device. It really takes you out of the story. Seriously, you “just knew” somehow because the AUTHOR NEEDED YOU TO KNOW, and couldn’t be bothered to think up even a shitty explanation for it.

    Anywho … dafuq is Ello?

  2. malcolmthecynic Reply

    The funny thing about Deus Ex Machinas is that they’re actually NOT necessarily bad. It’s just that if you use it, you better be damn sure that what you’re doing is really fucking interesting.

    HP is actually an excellent example of this. In book 1, we’re never told until the very end AFTER the event in question what the secret of the mirror is, but the scene with Quirrel is awesome.

    Book two, the fact that the Sorting Hat shits out swords isn’t revealed until the climax.

    Book three did pretty well on this front, but book four had the biggest deus ex of all. The entire scene in the graveyard was basically a giant deus ex machina contrived to allow Harry a chance to escape. We get absolutely no build-up to this.

    Even Pixar, the storytelling masters, do it. “Toy Story 3” is resolved when a giant mechanical claw plucks them out of the sky. We’re not told that anybody is near the claw or able to operate it, but save them it does.

    So what’s the difference between these scenes and the scene in “Divergent”?

    All of the above scenes are absolutely fascinating to read or watch. Rowling milked her deus ex machinas for all they were worth (the graveyard scene is more or less universally considered one of the best in the series), and in “Pixar’s” case the writers had built up such a strong rapport between the viewers and the movie characters that when a god plucks them out of the sky we forget about proper storytelling conventions for a moment and cheer – not to mention the very clever callback to the first TS movie. It helps that the media was visual I think too.

    In short- Roth isn’t clever or a good enough writer to pull off a deus ex machina without making it look as if she ran out of ideas. Rowling’s endings and climaxes tended to be so dramatic and fascinating that instead of shaking our head and going bullshit we’re too focused on what’s actually going on in the story, and Toy Story 3 did such a great job building a connection between the characters and the viewer that we cheer to see them saved by any semi-plausible (given the universe’s logic) series of events.

    Roth simply doesn’t have the skill to pull that off. For her, the much better path to a successful ending is to have it precede logically from what we know of the novel. But she doesn’t do that, and the end result is that it looks as if she pulled this ending out of her ass, whether she really did or not. C’est la vie

    • matthewjulius Reply

      Dang. Well said, man. I was actually thinking about writing a longer bit comparing this deus ex machina to the deus ex machinas in Harry Potter, but didn’t want to drift too far from my point (my point being making fun of Divergent).

      They’re inherently a little cheap, but I think you hit the nail on the head – a deus ex machina can work really well if it’s actually interesting. I think it works in Harry Potter because Harry is such a good audience surrogate – he’s as new to the world of magic as we are. It doesn’t feel like the world’s breaking the rules for the sake of the plot because, hey, we have NO IDEA what the rules are. And then they get explained afterwards, and it opens up a lot more stuff. It’s a deus ex machina that blossoms into world-building, which seems like the perfect way to do it.

      I don’t think that’s what’s going on in Divergent. Learning that Four can overcome yet another mind control drug in the same special way doesn’t really expand upon anything. It just reasserts that special people are special.

      And since I’m already having fun here, I think book one is a different sort of deus ex machina, where the mechanics are a deus ex machina, but we were expecting it. We knew that something was up with the mirror since way before the climax, and I think that having that unknown something happen during the climax with the explanation to come later didn’t rob anything from the strength of the narrative.

      So, uh, that’s Deus Ex Machinas 101. Please consider taking my course next semester, Deus Ex Machinas 102: Doctor Who.

    • Bellomy Reply

      Come to think of it, book three has a huge deus ex too. The time turner did have foreshadowing, but until Hermione brings it out we have no idea that’s even possible in the HP universe. But the foreshadowing was clever and helped a lot.


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