Cosmic Deadline

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

As you approach the final confrontation with the villain, events will become increasingly awkward, contrived and disconnected from one another -- almost as if some cosmic Author was running up against a deadline and had to slap together the ending at the last minute.

The Grand List of Console RPG Cliches, item #182 ("Compression of Time")

A phenomenon where the rate of character death and stray plotline resolution is exponentially and inversely proportional to the number of pages left in the book.

As the end of the story nears, antagonists suddenly start dying at an incredible rate, MacGuffins that eluded the heroes for the whole story are recovered, and mysteries are quickly wrapped up. Now this can be normal for a story as it reaches its climax, but in this case the rate is so absurdly high compared to before that it's almost as if some invisible cosmic author realised that he has one hundred pages left of a thousand-page book to write and has yet to resolve most of the stray plot threads.

A good author carefully plots everything out to come to natural conclusions. In the event of a Cosmic Deadline, a bad author will hammer on resolutions as quickly as possible regardless of the impact on the story's quality. See Deus Ex Machina for a common symptom of this.

In fairness, in some cases this may not necessarily be the fault of the author. If something is cancelled prematurely, for example, writers often have no choice but to rush the ending in order to wrap things up in a semi-satisfactory manner; it's either that or No Ending. Things can be even worse if the series gets renewed after the writers did their best to tie everything up in time.

And, sometimes, authors die before finishing what they've planned.

Depending on the medium, this may lead to or exacerbate problems with being Spoiled by the Format.

Do not confuse with Celestial Deadline. Contrast Exponential Plot Delay (though it's not unheard of for a series to have both at different times.)

As an Ending Trope, Spoilers ahead may be unmarked. Beware.

Examples of Cosmic Deadline include:

Anime and Manga

  • Code Geass - after getting a whole extra season to play with, the plot suddenly races off around the 20th episode of the Oddly-Named Sequel 2: Electric Boogaloo. It probably didn't help that Executive Meddling changed the staff's original plans and forced the first several episodes to basically recycle the plot for the new audience though.
  • Mai-Otome, starting roughly with episode 23. It seems almost like the writers planned ahead for ten more episodes than they eventually got, and thus spent what is now the first half of the series on exposition and complicated setup, then struggled to resolve at least the most essential plots when it became clear that there was not much screen time left.
  • Scrapped Princess is an example of a series that really needed two more episodes. The death of Cz is caused by her Cin personality suddenly taking over and letting herself die—which would have been really touching had they had time to establish it.
  • The ending of the Vision of Escaflowne series is notorious for feeling rushed. At almost the last minute, the Big Bad is defeated, the heroic Love Triangle is resolved, Allen finds his long lost sister, the war ends, and the heroine goes home. That last bit seems pretty inexplicable since --although there were hints throughout the series about how bad it might be for this world were Hitomi to remain in it--viewers were still expecting her to remain in Gaea with Vaan. She didn't seem the least bit distressed about leaving him. Her separation from him seemed as though it should have been milked for more drama, but wasn't because, hey, it was the last episode, and it was time for the writers to wrap things up. Part of the reason for the series' rushed feeling may be that it was originally slated to be 39 episodes long, and was later cut back to the standard 26, making edits and pacing speed-ups necessary.
  • The Manhwa Les Bijoux starts off fine in pacing, but picks up speed after the first volume until the fifth and final volume, where the hero suddenly has a fellowship of people we've never met before with about a page each of really interesting stories and characterizations of how they met and came together and then wow, doesn't time fly, everyone is dead.
  • Spoofed hilariously in the Sword Master Yamato segment in Gag Manga Biyori: A mangaka learns that his shounen adventure series has been canceled and has to tack on an ending in only three pages, so he fast-forwards through the rest of his epic story instead of resorting to a simple No Ending.
  • Samurai 7. After the main battle (farmers & samurai vs. Nobuseri) is resolved, there are roughly seven episodes left in the series. These are used to introduce a new villain and then defeat him. The worst part is the last episode, which features the deaths of three major characters and a scant few minutes of epilogue. It seems as though the directors realized, "Holy crap, we've only got one more episode to end this in!"
  • Benimaru Itoh was slated to draw an eleven-issue Super Metroid comic, which Americans may know from its appearance in Nintendo Power. For annoying reasons, he was abruptly forced to write a conclusion in the fifth issue. The result? The titular Metroid is killed by two minor characters in a brief side scene, the bosses are killed in a two-page spread, Ridley flees and is never seen again, and the battle against Mother Brain is resolved in about three pages.
  • Various Yoshiyuki Tomino series tend to end like this, mainly because his earlier series kept getting Cut Short. Especially egregious for Space Runaway Ideon, which ends on a text summary. The Movie covered the events of the summary, and, well...
  • The ending of the original Gunnm due to the fact that Yukito Kishiro wrote it on what he thought would be his deathbed. When he recovered he revived the series as Last Order, which mostly ignores the final volume of the original.
  • The first two rounds of Flame of Recca's Tournament Arc are at a glacial pace: each fight takes 2 or 3 episodes to resolve, a bunch of unimportant minor characters get long flashbacks to their backstories, etc. Suddenly, the heroes are winning matches by default when the minor characters withdraw from the tournament, Recca goes through a super-accelerated Training from Hell to gain the power he needs to fight the Big Bad—clearly the show was cancelled abruptly and the creative team only had a half-dozen episodes to wrap-up the plot.
  • Street Fighter II V was supposed to last 50 or so episodes, but due to low ratings, it was truncated to only 29 episodes. Because of this, M. Bison comes out from out of nowhere during the Spain arc with no foreshadowing and a lot of different sub-plots begin to occur at the same time (Ken and Chun-Li are kidnapped and taken to M. Bison's base; Guile and Charlie are hired by Ken's father to rescue him; M. Bison sends out Zangief to kidnap Ryu; and Balrog hires Cammy to assassinate Chun-Li's father, which results in a confrontation between Cammy and Fei-Long when Chun-Li's father ends up in a coma).
  • In the type of Contests held in the Pokémon anime, Coordinators need 5 Ribbons to enter the Grand Festival. The Contest the main character has to enter in order to win her last requisite Ribbon always happens to be the last official Contest before the Festival happens, giving her an urgency to win that Contest or else she has to wait for another Grand Festival next season. Keep in mind that this kind of situation happens twice to May (once in Hoenn, the other in Kanto). In the former, she almost crosses the Despair Event Horizon when the group was stranded on an island a day before the last Contest, and in the latter, one of her rivals, Harley, is trying to sabotage May's efforts in the Contest inexplicably for this very reason. The other Coordinator protagonist that succeeds May, Dawn, manages to avert this, since she wins her last Ribbon long before the Grand Festival for her season begins.
  • Heat Guy J spent so much time introducing the characters episodically that it didn't develop them (or the main plotline) enough. After a Filler, everything started to pull together, as quickly as possible, so as to wrap up the series in 26 episodes. In fairness, it was left open for a sequel, but that never materialized (and in all likelihood, will not.)
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion spent a great deal of time building up the mysterious Third Impact and its repercussions. As the show approached the last two episodes, however, Gainax began to run out of money. The resulting series finale was a two-parter that was simultaneously very cheap and very avant garde, and arguably failed to wrap up anything but Shinji's character development. That, of course, isn't a true example of this trope. What is, however, is the finale—The End of Evangelion.
    • Exposition is heaped on the viewer. Massive numbers of characters are killed and by massive, I mean the entire population of earth. Motivations for main villains are only just revealed here, and many are too vague to make out without looking things up in a wiki. Regardless of what you think of the film's quality, it's undeniable very messy.
  • Senki Zesshou Symphogear. The episode count was halved around the time it started airing. End result: The Drak Magical Girl's Heel Face Turn proceeds ludicrously quickly, the Big Bad's nature and plan comes out of nowhere, and there's little to no explanation for the nature of the magical stuff.
  • Due to a desperate race between the publisher and Ken Akamatsu for the copyrights, Mahou Sensei Negima ended up concluding the Myth Arc with all the abruptness of a rocket car hitting a brick wall right around the time the characters were seven eighths of the way through the fights at the Gravekeeper's Palace. The following quests (including the one to defeat the Big Bad) took place entirely offscreen, and what few of the innumerable dangling plot threads were actually given anything resembling resolution was in an unsatisfyingly brief and vague Where Are They Now? Epilogue montage.


  • Slasher films are like this. It's perfectly reasonable to guess how much longer the movie will go by knowing how many people were introduced in the part of the film Developing Doomed Characters and how many of those are still alive. If the movie has gone on for a while and there's still a crowd left, there's going to be a bloodbath soon.


  • The Oracle's Queen, the last book in the Tamír Trilogy, ends so quickly after the Final Battle that the MacGuffin doesn't even get a mention in the epilogue and is instead reduced to an author's note. (Although, to be fair, the MacGuffin was primarily buildup for a plotline that not only would happen hundreds of years later in-universe time, but had been published ten years earlier in real world time.)
  • The last two books of The Dark Tower sped things up intensively, and characters finally got started on solving problems present from the third book. Interestingly, the last three books in that series were written shortly after Stephen King himself almost died (this fact became a plot point). Apparently, he suddenly realised he wouldn't live forever, and made an intense effort to finish the series before another car hit him. Among fans, the results are controversial.
  • In many of his early novels (particularly the "juveniles"), Robert A. Heinlein would wrap up the plot in a page or two, often leaving the story unresolved. As noted in the description, this was probably due to word count/length limitations.
  • Some of the books in Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen become veritable blood baths near the end as the story comes full circle and doomed characters are killed off. Midnight Tides and Reaper's Gale are the most bloody examples.
  • The whole Harry Potter series. We only learn what Horcruxes are in Book 6 (out of 7). As a result, while only two Horcruxes have been found and destroyed by the end of book 6, the heroes must find and destroy four of them over the course of ONE book. Deathly Hallows then continues this trend: After too many pages detailing a camping trip and other hairsbreadth escapes, suddenly the Trio arrives at Hogwarts and Horcruxes are destroyed lickety-split (even offscreen), truckloads of important, nay, essential information is revealed, and the plot relevant (or irrelevant) deaths start cropping up all over the place.
  • This occurred often in the early Discworld books, with a plot being set up in the first 200 pages, and then resolved in five.
  • Science Fiction author Mack Reynolds seem to have this problem in a lot of his books.
  • The novelization of the first Resident Evil game is a good example of this, as the first third of the game takes up about two thirds of the book, with the remaining two-thirds crammed into the last sixty pages or so.
  • The last bit of the Animorphs series was the only part in which any major characters got killed off. And a lot of them died then.
  • Brandon Sanderson is known for what his fans and editors call "the Brandon Avalanche" - most of the book is spent with various characters setting up the dominoes until someone, by decision or accident, sets the entire thing off over the last five chapters.
  • Night's Dawn ends in between 50 and 100 pages, after taking more than 3000 to get to that point.
  • All of Richard Hooker and William Butterworth's M*A*S*H Goes to... sequels are subject to this, more pronouncedly as the series continues. The books have six to ten plots and subplots that get more and more convoluted and intertwined until roughly page 170. Then suddenly everything is resolved (happily for the protagonists and the young lovers, of course) in the space of 10 to 15 pages.
  • Many of the books in The Wheel of Time series have far more plot in the last 50 to 100 pages than they do in the several hundred it takes to get to that point.
  • The last part of Exile's Valor rushes to cover many of the background events mentioned in the first Heralds of Valdemar trilogy.
  • In The Sum of All Fears spends approximately the first three quarters of the book dealing with the protagonist's miserable personal life. Then the nuclear bomb finally goes off and the plot that everyone came for is wrapped up in under 200 pages.
  • Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age suffers from this a little. After the leisurely progress of the rest of the book, the last 100 pages or so run at a breakneck pace. Fortunately, it's well written enough that you don't mind the dizziness too much.

Live Action TV

  • The late fourth season of Babylon 5 had to wrap up some plot threads more rapidly than J. Michael Straczynski had planned, because renewal for a fifth season was still up in the air when the scripts were written. (To be fair, most of these episodes are pretty darn good regardless; general consensus is it's the fifth season that suffered, from most of its planned plotlines being stuffed into the last half of season four.)
  • Arguably, Firefly/Serenity. The show was canceled without any resolution to the plot, so the major would-have-been-a-two-season-long-Arc (according to Word of God) got tied up over the course of a movie barely longer than the pilot episode.
  • Ditto Stargate SG-1 and The Ark of Truth. The really screwy thing here is that SG-1 had several season finales that could have easily served as series finales, each with increasing amounts of closure for the series (including ending the conflict that ran throughout the whole series), and then they cancel it mid-plot.
  • Joss Whedon has really fallen foul of this one. Besides the Firefly example above, both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff, Angel fell victim to this.
    • Buffy was supposed to have another season at least to help tie up various character threads including Willow's feelings about magic and Dawn's feelings about being the key, but Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy) wanted to quit the show to work on her movie career so Dawn's plot was all but dropped and Willow was shoe-horned into a new relationship and her uneasiness about magic magically healed.
    • Angel on the other hand was cancelled by the network early into its 5th season but was allowed to finish out the year, meaning the writers had to hurry to let Angel defeat the series long big bads Wolfram & Hart as well as tie up romantic loose ends like finding Angel a new werewolf girlfriend and pairing off Wesley and Fred (who also died in a plot that would have been a much longer arc otherwise). The shanshu plot thread was dropped as well, magically
      • Subverted in the Angel episode Awakening (which aired in the middle of the fourth season), in which the breakneck happy ending is at last revealed to be a mind screw, an illusion designed to give Angel a damning moment of perfect happiness. Incidentally, the episode is quite a stunning display of the writing staffs' skills, showing how, no matter how knotty and overheated the narrative has become, it can be satisfyingly resolved anytime at the drop of a hat.
    • And how about Dollhouse? While the plot got wrapped up more or less satisfactorily in the second season, anyone could see that Joss had to rush it.
  • The final episode of Arrested Development has more plot twists than the entire rest of the show due to the show's impending cancellation.
  • This arguably worked out for the best for Point Pleasant. When it became evident that the show was going to be cancelled the writers started rushing to resolve things, and the results were actually kind of thrilling. Prior to this the show had featured demon-sponsored dance-off with the characters facing the horror of...a disco ball coming unscrewed.
  • The second season of Heroes suffered from this. The writers' strike hit halfway through production of the season, and the writers were basically forced to end the season in about half an episode, instead of another 11 or so. This caused several plot lines, which eventually would have been woven into the main thread, to be left completely hanging, most notable being Peter stranding Caitlin in a horrifying alternate future, never to escape according to Word of God.
  • This is also incredibly apparent in the last few episodes of Dead Like Me, which had been canceled.
  • This happened to a 1999 Brazilian drama named Brida, a loose adaptation of a novel by Paulo Coelho. Most of the network's employees went on strike because of really late paychecks, including the actors. So what did the writers do? The 52nd episode ended with narration summarizing everything that would happen in the ending with matching character shots.
  • In season 5 of Lost, the flaming arrow attack on the camp slaughters every minor background character because the show was due to end in season 6 and they needed to be gotten rid of before then
  • In the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise, the kind of story arcs the fans have been waiting for the whole time (birth of the Federation, the Romulan War) finally started to get told. But it was too late to save the show from cancellation, and so the last episode was a Distant Finale. We learn that the Official Couple broke up in the meantime, and that the fans' favorite recurring guest star fathered a daughter, and went into hiding for reasons not fully explained. The Romulan War, although it also must have happened during this missing chunk of time, never even gets mentioned. The birth of the Federation on the other hand is a plot point in this episode. Archer is about to deliver a historic speech at the founding ceremony, but we never get to hear it, because the episode ends before that. For this and some other reasons, this episode gets filed under Fanon Discontinuity by many.

Video Games

  • Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver ends very abruptly as a result of the deadline its developers were under. The finished game contains foreshadowing to the chopped out bits, which were eventually worked into the later titles in heavily modified forms. This is probably one of the few instances where a Cosmic Deadline actually benefited a series as a whole: The original ending effectively closed off the series to any more sequels, with Raziel wiping out the vampires and restoring the Pillars finally. While the cliffhanger was infuriating to many, the resulting plotline was well worth it.
  • Xenogears had its budget killed off and schedule moved forward significantly around the halfway point of development. As a result, the game ended up adopting the infamous "interview chairs" design in order to dump a metric ton of exposition in what felt like a forced manner.
  • Kingdom Hearts II: Naturally, the Big Bad Organisation XIII have to be killed off before the end of the story. But they could have come up with a better way to clean up the last few members than having Sora come across a room with a locked door that will only open if all the members are dead, and have the room equipped with convenient portals that teleport him directly to the remaining members.
  • Square-Enix is prone to this -- Final Fantasy IX's Very Definitely Final Dungeon goes past 'trippy' and into 'incomprehensible,' introducing 'the source of all life' with no build-up, followed by famed Giant Space Flea From Nowhere with vague motivations, Necron.
  • The Devil May Cry games (at least the first one) because the bosses keep running away to try again later, so you end up fighting most of them for their third and final round right near the end. Onimusha 2 did the same thing.
  • Tales of the Abyss has this, with the recurring bosses you've been fighting for 60 hours suddenly going from "you beat me, I'd better retreat" to "you beat me, blarg I am dead" all at once.
  • Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II got hit with this hard, it had the most non-endingest of non-endings ever witnessed. Fortunately, The Sith Lord Restoration project aims to fix most of this problem.
  • Xenosaga Episode III is written as if the creators sat there with a checklist of every major plot thread that needed to be resolved by the end. However, considering that the series was originally going to be longer, its understandable.
    • Especially when you consider the rate at which the villains collect the Vessels of Anima; one is collected early on, another presumably just after, cut ahead a long timr, and the rest are collected within the span of two or three hours. There are twelve of them in total. Naturally, the villains can't take the four being used by the heroes for obvious reasons, but still.
  • Fallout 3's main plot is a serious offender - after hunting for a series of loose plotlines, everything is suddenly resolved with one fight that would be epic, if the player could actually participate beyond taking potshots at the few enemies who survive the overbearing might of your allies.
  • Jeane's backstory in No More Heroes is literally fast-forwarded in game to get to the "final" boss. Not only a cosmic deadline, but a cosmic limitation. The characters seem to believe theres a limit to how much messed-up stuff they can say before the game gets cancelled/delayed. If the scene is replayed at a slowed rate, the story becomes understandable.
    • It is notable as an example that combines terror and No Fourth Wall as Jeane's backstory goes from Tear Jerker to unimaginablely screwed up quickly, making the reaction portrayed beliveable.
  • Psychonauts, thanks to rushed development, is much faster paced and less well-written toward the end. This complaint was also leveled at Brutal Legend, though Tim Schafer does not have development time as an excuse for that one - just Executive Meddling.
  • Fahrenheit (2005 video game)/Fahrenheit (2005 video game). Well written and immersive until about two thirds through the game, at which point it goes absolutely batshit crazy. Check out the image on its page.
  • Star Ocean is well paced at first, but when you expect you're halfway done, you get sent to an Ass Pull final dungeon and introduced to a new (final) villain who monologues, explaining what would have been the second half of the game.
  • Dark Void is perhaps worse than Fahrenheit. The first third of the game preps you on cover-based shooting and eases you into the eccentricities - hovering, vertical cover, etc... before giving you the promised Jet Pack. The second third is your cannonball playground, though it feels sparse at times, as if there's story you're missing - There's a level that was obviously supposed to be a Hub Level, but you just move from there to the next stages via Time Skips. The final third has two awesome stages - one where you blow the s#!+ out of a monster the size of Manhattan while inside its stomach, and the final boss battle is an Old School Dogfight against a freaking three-headed dragon. Except... there's no buildup! Your Mad Scientist friend is killed without fanfare, an Oracular Urchin throws a prophecy at you, and your character gains undefined Magic and Powers solely to fight the final boss. The thread that proves it? The first "episode" had six levels. The other two have four.

Yahtzee: The developers planned out a HUGE EPIC GAME, the various components of their studio started working on all the little bits of the HUGE EPIC GAME, and then they ran out of laundry powder or whatever it was and had to string together all the little unfinished bits into something vaguely sellable. They wrote a script for Lord of the Rings and ended up having to perform it with finger puppets.

  • Super Robot Wars L, where the last 10 chapters (Out of 43) are basically "One chapter setting up a show's finale, another chapter doing said finale, repeat three more times, do the same for the Original Generation baddies", with little crossovering going on other than Moon WILL and Big Gold's Villain Team-Up meaning they fight you Dual Boss style.
    • Though Super Robot Wars K is probably worse: There are a few times where the team splits up to take two treaths at the same time. Near the end, they split to end THREE plots at once (Godannar, Gaiking and Soukyuu no Fafner), with the Godannar one condensing the entire second season in three measly chapters.
  • F.E.A.R. 3 is a prime offender, especially when you consider that it was apparently meant to wrap up the entire plot of the series. The game has a clear beginning, middle, and finale, but jumps abruptly from the middle right to the finale without any sort of build-up or transition in between.
  • The second half of Star Fox Adventures is much shorter because of this. After a lengthy set of introductory tasks, Fox starts looking for the Spellstones and later the Krazoa Spirits. The first two Spellstones and three Krazoa Spirits take a while to find. The other two Spellstones and three Krazoa Spirits are gotten in a more rushed way. The very last Spirit, in fact, is supposedly earned after defeating Big Bad general Scales, until [[spoiler:Andross interrupts the battle, orders Scales to give Fox the Spirit and, when the latter places it in its spot in Krazoa Palace, a sudden battle between Fox and Andross ensues. And then the game ends.
  • Mass Effect 3 The grand finale of Bioware's space opera completely shattered the fanbase upon release with a lot of these.


  • Narbonic, starting around the time when Shaenon K. Garrity announced its pending end, pretty much just mashed together nearly every single plot element over the course of a relatively short and disjointed Story Arc in order to hastily resolve pretty much everything.
  • Lampshaded by Belkar in this Order of the Stick strip, though the plot slows down again after that burst of accomplishment.
  • Powerup Comics. Since the artist was departing for college, necessitating the end of the comic, every single plot twist and dramatic reveal from a few years' worth of story lines was crammed into the final weeks' comics. Of course, since the author and artist were fictional, too, this was completely intentional.

Western Animation

  • Danny Phantom goes through this with the last stretch of Season Three. Because it was canceled, the last five or so episodes rushed to wrap up much of the loose ends that have been built up or hinted at from the previous two seasons. Unfortunately there were a few (mostly Vlad and Valerie's story) that were left out...
    • This can also be specifically seen with Danny and Sam's relationship. Their feelings for each other remained in the background as subtext for most of the series. During the last few episodes, the Ship Tease becomes far more blatant than it was previously.