Analysis / Karma Houdini

In fiction, like in Real Life, people don't always get what they deserve. So how does a Karma Houdini happen? How does such a black-hearted scoundrel, or hero who has gone a little too close to the edge, get away with it all? There could be a number of reasons.


  • The Bad Guy Wins - He's achieved his goals and struck down all who could oppose him. It would feel cheap to resolve the situation with a random heart attack after that.
  • Redemption Is Cheap - It's all well and good for a villain to see the light and change sides, but once that switch is flipped it's all too easy to forget about all the mayhem he caused before that moment (especially if the victims weren't named characters). Even if Redemption Equals Death, one heroic act at the end isn't enough to make up for a long career of dog football.
  • But What About That Guy? - The Sorting Algorithm of Evil, and the story, has left the villain behind, and a much larger threat has taken over. Once the heroes have dealt with Entropus the Destroyer of Worlds, sometimes the story forgets that there's still an Evil Emperor ruling his kingdom with an iron fist.
  • Horrible History - The story is based on a true story, where the antagonists were never brought to justice. If the writers care at all about historical accuracy, the villain will be a Karma Houdini by default.
  • Executive Meddling - In some very rare cases, the author/filmmaker does write an appropriately grim death scene for the villainous character, but Executive Meddling determines that it's too gruesome, hurts the flow of the narrative, makes the movie run on too long, and so forth.
  • Slipped the Sequel Hook - The writer may have left the villain alone so that he could return to cause more mayhem in a future sequel (and hopefully recieve his just desserts then). But sometimes the sequel never gets made, for any number of reasons...
  • Sequel Blues - ...Or the villain paid the piper in the previous outing. However, now he's back for the sequel, or another author or franchise has decided to bring him back for more.
  • Prequel Blues - Even if the villain was defeated in the first outing, the creation of a prequel means that the villain has to survive the events of the prequel. And many times, the situation at the start of the original implies that the antagonist will win...
  • Invincible Villain - The villain is simply too powerful for the heroes to handle. This tends to be the case in stories where the heroes are simply ordinary people thrown into a bad situation beyond their control; the best they can do is survive the story.


  • Not My Enemy, Not My Problem - The character in question was never an enemy of the heroes. No matter what reprehensible things they might have done in the past, they have no reason to punish him for those.
  • The Dark Hero Wins - If the "good guys" are crossing the Moral Event Horizon, then we're either dealing with a Villain Protagonist or a very dark setting where the protagonist is no better than the foes he opposes. For games which allow you to behave evilly, sometimes the PC ends up being a Karma Houdini because the alternative means Railroading, But Thou Must!, or even No Canon for the Wicked which many players find even more frustrating than this trope. Some games get around this with a gameplay or storyline punishment, if they give the player the option of being a villain when they're expected to be a hero.
  • What Did I Do? - The protagonist sees nothing wrong with their actions, and neither does the author. Values Dissonance caused by time or an author with a skewed code of ethics have turned a heroic figure of yesteryear into a dark Anti-Hero today.
  • Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind - The character may have done all sorts of horrible things in the past, but he's not doing them now, is he? If the audience doesn't see an event happen, it's all too easy to forget. The Retired Monster often falls under this.
  • It's just funnier that way:
    • A more subjective reason for the prevalence of this trope. A character that gets away with everything can add to their charm and comedic value in tandem with their assholishness rather than simply getting punished for everything they do.
    • Alternatively, it's can be seen as a subversion of story conventions; rather than the asshole getting punished for their behavior, it can be funnier if they get away with it whereas more moral characters get mistreated for their attempts at doing good (or tend to do damage in their attempts to help).