In Star Trek: Voyager, the title ship is alone and often outgunned, so sometimes they just can't do anything about the bad guys. Examples:
Both the Akritirians in "The Chute" and the unnamed alien from "Persistence of Vision" come off none the worse for their crimes.
Verin and the other colonists in "Friendship One" get a free radiation-poisoning cure and are left alone... despite having murdered a popular recurring character in cold blood.
The Vidiians get away with stealing Neelix's lungs, abducting three crewmembers, experimenting on one, using them all as slave workers, and murdering one of them (the non-regular). The Kazon are one thing, but Voyager is just no match for these guys — Janeway has to cut her losses.
Not only that, but they get a Karma Houdini as a race later. The Vidiians spent god knows how long dehumanizing (de-sapientizing?) other races, raiding them, and assaulting and murdering who knows how many. The "Think Tank" from the episode of the same name cured their disease. No mention is made of any sort of consequences for the Vidiians' actions. Sure, they won't do those things anymore, but that is cold comfort to the dead left in their wake.
In fairness she does deserve some sympathy when one considers that she is essentially being traded off against her will like a piece of property. And yes property is the exact word T'Pau uses to describe her situation; which is often forgotten about when people look back on this episode.
Vulcan ambassador T'Pel who was really a Romulan spy called Sub-Commander Selok in "Data's Day".
Armus' punishment for the murder of Tasha Yar is...being left alone again. (Admittedly, this seems to be hell for him but he's no worse off for his encounter with the Enterprise.)
Episode First Contact has Krola, the loud-mouthed, paranoid defense minister who tries to kill himself and make it look like Riker shot him. Unbeknownst to him, the phaser is set to stun. He doesn't die, and while the chancellor knows what really happened, he asks the Enterprise to leave like Krola wanted.
Possibly the biggest Karma Houdini in history occurs in the episode "The Survivors" where it eventually transpires that an immortal superalien named Kevin accidentally, in a moment of pure rage, killed all fifty billion members of the race that killed his (human) wife. He feels bad about it but not bad enough that he doesn't create a fantasy version of his wife to carry on as if it never happened. In the circumstances, though, it's understandable that Picard's response is to go "Yikes" and get as far away from him as possible.
In "The Mind's Eye", the Romulan Subcommander Taibak suffers no comeuppance for torturing and brainwashing Geordi La Forge into becoming a Manchurian Agent that nearly sparks a war between the Federation and the Klingons.
Shapeshifters are good at shifting away from consequences. The ruthless and evil Founders of the Dominion are cured at the end of the series; their power in the Gamma Quadrant is unbroken, and there's nothing to stop them from invading again. Meanwhile, Odo faces no professional consequences for collaborating with the Dominion during their occupation of DS9, and the only personal consequence is a long talk with Kira.
Many of Sisko's choices come back to haunt him, but two of his most outrageous never do. In "For the Uniform", he poisons an entire planet and isn't punished for it. In "In the Pale Moonlight", he tricks the Romulans into an alliance; his original, Starfleet-approved plan is about to fail, but Garak saves it with cruder and decidedly unapproved methods (which Ben should've seen coming a mile away). No punishment from Starfleet here either. Moreover, as far as we know in canon, the Romulans never find out — and they would be livid if they ever did — so the whole Federation is a Karma Houdini on this one.
Funnily enough Sisko's poisoning of the planet was a reversal of the Maquis' same action regarding a Maquis using bio-weapons on a Cardassian colony. Ironically while the Maquis see their actions as harmless as no civilians where hurt, they cried foul when Sisko did the same and no Maquis civilians where hurt. Basically Sisko used their tactics against them to prevent them getting away with using terror tactics on Cardassian civilians. (Although karma does eventually catch up with the Maquis big time: Once the Cardassians team up with the Dominion, the Maquis are almost completely massacred and all known survivors end up in Federation custody.)
Intendant Kira, in spades. Throughout her appearances, she's portrayed as a monster who commits casual murder for the flimsiest of reasons, takes pleasure in enslaving other races and generally seeks power for its own sake without really showing loyalty to anyone. She's taken prisoner by both sides at various points but never stays locked up for long. Her last appearance sees her once more escaping unharmed while every other villain is killed or captured.
Majorly averted for the Cardassians. They have a long history to the point it could be said that evil has been ingrained into their species. Cardassians occupied Bajor for 60 years, tortured Captain Picard, kidnapped O'Brien to be murdered in a Kangaroo Court as a political maneuver, terrorized colonies that a treaty put in their territory, thereby giving rise to the Maquis, went The Quisling by joining the Dominion against the rest of the Alpha Quadrant, and, oh yeah, one of 'em tried to release evil gods from their can. DS9 ends with Cardassia wrecked, their having been on the receiving end of The Day Of The Jackboot for a change.
On Star Trek: Enterprise, Silik's boss from the future, who's behind all sorts of mischief, is last seen doing just fine in the Season 2 finale.
Q. About half the time, his insane pranks on Starfleet crews have no consequences for him; it seems the Continuum stopped bothering to discipline him after TNG's third season.
The Borg have thousands of counts of genocide in their ledger. They're unquestionably the greatest evil force in the galaxy, and as far as we know, they're doing fine at the end of canon Trek. Every victory Starfleet ekes out — surviving invasions, saving Hugh's Borg, freeing Unimatrix Zero — is just a drop in the ocean.
Until Star Trek: Voyager finale Endgame, that is, where a virus from the future obliterates a good chunk of them. However, we know even then that it's far from the end of the Borg.
Just as a rule, the Prime Directive tends to get in the way of karma; often, the moral of the story is how Starfleet has to walk away because to do otherwise would mean interfering in another culture.
Anyone in Six Feet Under who is responsible for the Body of the Week is never seen facing any punishment. The worst cases are homophobiac teenagers who assault a gay couple (killing one of them), a burglar who shoots the man he is robbing (which was completely pointless, since the victim was tied and gagged, and the bastard could have simply wore a mask to hide his identity), and the Alpha Bitch owning the caretaking company opposing the Fishers, who kills a bystander with a golf ball, without ever noticing it. None of them are seen caught, and just leave the show.
Also Jake, the creepy hitchhiker. Sure, he gets caught, but he traumatized David by beating, drugging, stalking, and almost killing him. For the rest of the series, David is still scattered by the event and even seeing Jake in jail (who doesn’t seem very annoyed by his condition) doesn’t make him feel better.
Laura Collins in Dark Shadows, a phoenix-like being who appears every hundred years and then burns herself to death, preferring to take any offspring with her. She's prevented from killing her son David, but still presumably goes on to try again every hundred years.
Several of the defendants on Law & Order manage to wriggle out of well-deserved punishments. Uncoincidentally, most of those who do are filthy rich.
In "Sick", Billy Tripley, a rich pedophile isn't punished because the other villains' actions make the case impossible to prosecute. The episode actually ends with the frustrated squad vowing to get him eventually, but the story was never revisited.
A good (and not rich) SVU example is Darius. He sets up The Plan to seek revenge on his family and ensure that he gets away with at least one murder. He still fully expects to go to jail, but he knows he won't get nearly as much time as he should. In the end he is found not guilty and walks away scot-free. That said, it was a Pyrrhic Victory, as revelations from the trial - namely that Darius was a product of father/daughter rape - left Darius even more emotionally screwed up than before.
Another more recent example is in "Valentine's Day" when the supposed victim is accused of using sex to lure an unsuspecting male into setting up a false kidnapping, so she could collect the ransom money herself. During a break in the court case, we see her approach one of the jury members in a stairwell, and surprise surprise, the case ends in a mistrial due to a hung jury. The ADA subsequently tells the squad that her boss probably won't let her pursue the case any further, as the evidence is a sketchy at best and the defendant is too sympathetic.
A couple's daughter was kidnapped, so they adopted another little girl, dressed her in the original daughter's clothes, dyed her hair, gave her plastic surgery, implanted her with a tracking chip, all in an effort to have Replacement Goldfish that would never leave her mother's sight again. The end of the episode has the SVU detectives bringing the original daughter home, while the adopted daughter is promptly forgotten, still mutilated, and no one cares.
Harmony, the soulless vampire has killed people, and betrays Angel in the end. But since she was so predictable about it and useful in an Affably Evil way, he not only let her go but types up a written letter of recommendation. (She was his secretary.) In Season 8, this is even more pronounced. She outs the existence of vampires, becoming a worldwide celebrity and making vampires seem like good guys while the Slayer Organization was made out to be a Nazi-like group attempting to destroy the misunderstood demonkind. But because of Harmony's status, Buffy orders her army not to try and kill her, out of fear of making her a martyr, which essentially gives her a free pass to do whatever she wants.
Angel actually explains the reason he lets her go and gives her the letter of recommendation: He not only expected her to betray him precisely the way she did, his plan depended on it.
A far worse example would be Drusilla. Even after killing slayer Kendra and forcibly turning Darla into a vampire again, she was never staked and is still at large as both series closed.
Russel Winters in the Angel pilot "City Of..." openly brags about being a Karma Houdini who can, as he puts it, "do whatever I want". Then Angel asks him "Can you fly?" Unlike some movie vampires, he can't, especially not in the sunlight.
Andrew Wells is an arguable example. His list of crimes include being a willing member of Warren's Trio in Season 6, being willing to abandon Jonathan in one scheme, denying any responsibility throughout the whole arc, and stabbing Jonathan in the back in Season 7 in a ritual that could have unleashed a caveman vampire apocalypse if Jonathan hadn't been anemic. He was tricked into doing this though. But while he doesn't suffer much direct punishment for it, he is forced to confront what he did by Buffy and feels horrible about it, and he works to redeem himself by helping the crew against The First Evil in whatever way he can.
Willow - she murdered Warren by skinning him alive, tried to kill Andrew and Jonathan despite them not being involved in Tara's death, as well as casually killing a warlock who sold her magic, then tried to destroy the world. She was being influenced by dark magic at the time, but then, she absorbed it on purpose. Her punishment? A couple months in England learning to better use her world-destroying powers. Although her time in England was no vacation intense therapy and formal training) and when she returned she is the first suspect when flaying bodies appear.
The First Evil. Being incorporeal and essentially a force of nature, it actually cannot be defeated. The only thing the Scoobies were able to do was to destroy the Hellmouth, eliminating The First Evil's army, but not The First itself. Oh well.
Spike. He is more popular than the rest of the characters combined and people tend to forgive him everything, but he is arguably the most blatant example of this trope in the entire Buffyverse. Even before he was chipped Buffy let him walk away a few times for no reason (like in the episode "Halloween"). Then he gets chipped and everyone is suddenly trusting this chip with their lives, never mind that the organization that made it soon proved to be both evil and incompetent. Willow actually comforts Spike for his "impotence" - i.e. the inability to kill her! He starts killing people once more (against his will) in Season 7 - Buffy's reaction is "He must be being framed". Whatever, "Slayer"...
Anya's centuries of killing men at the wishes of scorned women is ignored by the main cast, despite her open desire to return to her demonic identity after becoming human and putting several lives at risk pursuing it. Though this helped by the fact that for the most part, when she became human, she stopped killing humans. Falling in love with Xander helped cement her as an ally among the Scoobies. Ultimately, she was killed by a Bringer while helping to save the world. Before this, her past did come back to haunt her at one point when a man she had turned into a demon and sent to a hell dimension for adultery sabotages her wedding with Xander as payback.
The protagonists go through considerable trouble to make vampire Willow into one of these. Even after she tries to murder dozens of innocent people succeeding with few, the Scooby gang just let her leave back to her own world, even giving goodbye hugs and advice "try not to kill people". The hand of karma is swift in her case, as she gets staked seconds after her return, but not for the lack of trying.
Wolfram and Hart is the last example of this from the spin-off series Angel. Despite the horrors they commit, the Armageddon they have planned, the misery and devastation they have sowed, all of the team's efforts are only enough to inconvenience them, leading to a Bolivian Army Ending. To be clear, this refers to the Senior Partners and the organization as a whole, not individual employees. Almost every single evil employee ended up paying for their actions in one way or another.
Joyce, in 'Dead Man's Party', when she all but shrugs off the role her ultimatum played in Buffy running away in 'Becoming'. A revolting moment for a likeable character. Yes, Buffy bears responsibility, even most of it. But to verbally crucify Buffy in front of people she can't talk about Slayer-stuff in front of, and give her own stupidity a pass? It helps, though, that afterwards, Joyce did try to be supportive about Buffy being the Slayer (even if Joyce wasn't always successful at it.)
Gunn's old gang, from the Angel episode "That Old Gang of Mine". After murdering a good amount of completely innocent demons, ransacking a completely innocent demon bar where the demons inside can't even fight back, terrorizing a mentally ill girl and her friends, and still thinking that Angel is the evil one, what happens to them in the end? A few of their members get eaten in the climactic fight, and the rest just walk away to go kill more demons, with nary a Reason You Suck Speech from the main cast.
In the season 2 finale, Willow asks Xander to tell Buffy to buy some time while fighting Angelus, so that Willow can do the spell to return Angel's soul. Instead, when Xander catches up to Buffy, he says Willow's message is: "Kick his [Angelus's] ass." Buffy ends up having to kill a re-ensouled Angel to save the world, which leads to a major Heroic BSOD. Xander's actions are only brought up once, years later, and even then he never suffers any consequences for not giving Buffy false hope.
Possibly justified in that it may have been the right thing to do at the time. Giles was missing, the world was in danger of ending and Willow had just come out of a coma. Buffy, although her reluctance was understandable, had allowed Angelus to go unchecked for months before she had gathered the nerve to stake him (or found any hope of a re-ensouling spell). By the time Willow did the spell, she had only a few spells under her belt and had just woken up from a coma. Considering that Willow would be performing the spell in her hospital bed, it's no wonder that Xander might not want to give Buffy false hope.
Also, even though Xander couldn't have known it at the time, Angel doesn't get resouled until after he releases the demon... killing him was the only thing she could do. Not saying it's a justification for what Xander said, but it is a pretty solid reason why no one would have brought it up since.
"Once More With Feeling" has Xander (more through foolishness than malice) summon a demon that danced several people to death and caused several unwanted confessions.
Anya lampshades this when complaining about Buffy's treatment of her in a season 7 episode, pointing out that Buffy's entire team was evil at one time.
Spike also lampshades this, pointing out that almost everyone has been evil at one point and that most of them get away with it after he starts Becoming the Costume in a season six Angel comic.
In the M* A* S* H series, the exit story of Major Frank Burns is so horrible - for everybody save himself. After acting as the ultimate jerk for five seasons, he got promoted and got his own command - stateside!!!
Not even a realistic Karma Houdini — the Army has, historically, medieval attitudes when it comes to officers who have mental breakdowns. They don't hand out promotions and cushy jobs to soldiers who go cuckoo, unless maybe they have important friends, which Frank doesn't.
Actually, he was pretty unrealistic overall. The fact that someone as immoral and incompetent as him even made the rank of Major and lasted as long as he did without being court-martialed is testament to the rather surreal nature of the show.
Frank regularly got his comeuppance on the show, so it wasn't like he got off scot-free. His exit storyline was supposedly done as a parting shot at Hawkeye, who was regularly the one who dealt Frank his comeuppance.
Amusingly, the exit story of Burns in the book and movie is also an example of sorts, in the other direction. After Hawkeye, Trapper, and Duke pester him into flipping out and trying to kill them, Captain Burns gets hauled away in a straitjacket. After that, Colonel Blake calls them in, tells them flat out that he knows what they did, but the only disciplinary action he's going to give them is not making Trapper chief surgeon for another week because it would look bad. Mostly because he can't afford to lose more people who actually know what they're doing, granted...
One of the protagonists (either Hawkeye or Duke, depending on the version of the event) asks if he can go home if he has sex with Hot Lips and punches out Trapper.
Foyle's War is one of the ultimate sources of this trope; set during the Second World War, many of the murderers and criminals Foyle exposes are also somehow essential to the British war effort, and thus manage to wriggle out of punishment and get away with murder. In some cases, the British government actually actively helps them escape justice. This actually prompts Foyle to quit at the end of the fifth season, frustrated that too many people escape justice and use the war as an excuse.
Neatly played with in one episode - the murderer, a prominent American businessman, manages to escape punishment because he is an essential figure in a movement to eventually bring the United States into the Second World War. Before he leaves for America, Foyle comes to see him off. The businessman gloatingly triumphs over Foyle, but is quickly cut down to size when Foyle informs him that he's only postponing justice, not escaping it; he's free because of the war, but the war will end one day, and when it does he'll still be a proven murderer - and Foyle will bring him to justice then.
And the last episode of the series, does indeed end with Foyle boarding a ship headed for post-war America.
And subverted in the first episode, in which the killer expects that Foyle will let him go because his work is essential to Britain's code-breaking efforts. Foyle arrests him anyway, reasoning that this isn't Nazi Germany and he doesn't get to decide who gets away with murder because of how important/vital they are.
Colonel Maybourne in Stargate SG-1. Initially introduced as a corrupt shadowy figure and the primary opponent of the SGC on Earth, he quickly suffered Flanderization and finally, after facing a court martial, fleeing to Russia and leaking information about the Stargate program, being brought back, facing a death sentence, being taken out of prison by O'Neill, being put back, escaping, helping SG-1, tricking SG-1 into taking him off-world, being brought back and then exiled by the Tok'ra... he eventually led a primitive nation claiming to be a prophet. And then, even after his deception was exposed (by SG-1), his people left their "King Arkhan I" in power anyway. To be fair, Maybourne turned out to be a pretty decent king anyways, and he wasn't "exposed" by SG-1; he confessed and apologized for lying. His people still served him because apparently he was a good king, despite lying.
It is implied that he's not that evil and generally wants to help the planet too. (Example: "Foothold") Even at his slimiest, his opposition to the SGC never appeared to be personal, whereas Simmons and Kinsey gave the impression that while they did think their ideas were sound, they also just wanted to belittle and hurt SG-1.
And Jack did get to shoot him before he got shipped off to the Tok'ra.
The eponymous Dexter averts this trope. His victims are would-be Karma Houdinis, except Dexter gets 'em.
Another Showtime original, Nurse Jackie follows the life of a nurse coping with situations her drug addiction and professional struggles bring into her personal life. Her amazing ability to maintain the integrity of her relationships despite the chaos in her life prevents her from feeling the consequences of her actions. At least until Season 4, and even then it's not as bad as it could be.
The author tried again in the sequel; in the novel To Play the King, Urquhart is Prime Minister but is still ultimately defeated at the end. In the TV adaptation, Urquhart comes out unquestionably on top.
And curiously, the positions were reversed in the final installment, The Final Cut; in both, Urquhart is assassinated, but in the TV adaptation Urquhart's fate is portrayed as being entirely out of his hands and stage-managed by his wife and bodyguard, thus rendering Urquhart impotent and powerless against forces outside of his control. In the novel, however, Urquhart is aware of what is happening but knowingly meets his fate in order to secure his enduring legacy, thus proving his Magnificent Bastardness without doubt by allowing him to have the last laugh against his critics and enemies by ending his life on his own terms and, for all his sins, as a much-beloved and admired martyr.
Subverted in The Wire: After everything he's been responsible for over the last three seasons, Marlo avoids a jail sentence entirely and gets to keep all his money and connections, with the seemingly minor stipulation that he's not allowed to return to dealing drugs on the streets...but it turns out that he can't imagine any other life, so this is actually a fitting punishment for him.
Played straight with Stan Valchek, the most useless and venal character in a useless and venal hierarchy.
Scott Templeton. Even though he fabricated quotes and information about the supposed serial killer roaming around Baltimore in season 5, and though almost everyone involved knows he's lying (McNulty asks how the lie will benefit Templeton in the end, and it's implied the Baltimore Sun brass know what he did but are intentionally looking the other way), he not only gets away with it but receives a prestigious award for his work.
The Wire seems to be 50/50 with its Karma victims. While the above is probably the best example for the series, there are numerous other complete bastards (criminal or otherwise) who get away scot free. Life goes on, presumably is the message.
HBO's OZ, being tilted toward the cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, had several unrepentant criminals escape any kind of justice for their evil deeds. Notably, Jason Cramer got his murder rap overturned (he'd decapitated his lover and mailed the guy's body via FedEx) and waltzed out of the prison scot-free.
Conversely, genuinely repentant Miguel Alvarez runs afoul of the vindictive head of the parole board who tells him to his face that he will never be paroled though they will continue to go through the motions every year.
Sylar on Heroes. His continued survival defeats the entire purpose of the first season arc, there are newer and better villains on the show such as Adam Monroe, and the only person who seems to think that his presence continues to be necessary is creator Tim Kring. Fans in general are sick of him and his continued survival. In the third season premiere he obtained Claire's power without killing her - admittedly when Sylar got her power in the alternate timeline of season one's "Five Years Gone" we never saw her dead (and it's not the last time this would happen to someone played by Hayden Panettiere), but it still kind of makes the whole "save the cheerleader, save the world" thing a little pointless.
Also, he had some ability (Empathic Mimicry) used on him that forced him to feel all the pain he's caused other people. Which is a lot. Sure, he's not dead, but he's definitely suffered for his crimes.
Doesn't count. He doesn't suffer permanent consequences, and is right back to being, well, Sylar.
He didn't have an ability used on him. It was revealed that he had ANOTHER ability that allowed him to copy a person's powers through empathy, like his nemesis Peter Petrelli. And since he immediately started using THAT ability to steal powers in a more subtle way when he had to, it REALLY doesn't count. Particularly since they're now ignoring the pain he is supposed to feel from using that power that way.
It became a full blown Shaggy Dog Story in Chapter Three (first half of Season 3) when Sylar discovered he had the ability to steal powers through Empathy AND through cutting people's heads open to look at their brains, trying to reform and getting a girlfriend. Then we had a nonsensical flashback episode which dismissed any culpability Sylar had for any of his past crimes since he was pushed into killing more people by his current girlfriend (Elle Bishop) and by Noah "HRG" Bennet. Of course all of this was Ret Conned by the end of the chapter and Sylar killed Elle, went back to his wicked ways with even MORE power and was dead for about five minutes before being brought back, fresh as a daisy for Chapter 4
Sylar received full-blown Joker Immunity in Chapter Four (second half of Season 3) when he suddenly went back to his Season One motivation of wanting to be the most special person in the world and/or President of the USA after spending half the season angsting over his biological father. Newly motivated, he picked up even more superpowers, gaining the ability to become anyone using a combination of shape-shifting and the power to instantly learn the history of anything and anyone by touching them. He somehow convinced the violent, anti-social and anti-mutant government-sponsored assassin heading the US Government's "specials containment team" to partner up with him.
Though his plan ultimately failed, Sylar was STILL saved after the two most Magnificent Bastards on the show (Noah Bennet and Angela Petrelli) proved unable to think of any better plan to disable the government's anti-mutant programs than to try and convince Matt Parkman (one of the last people in the world who should have any sympathy for Sylar) to use his telepathic powers to make Sylar think he is a now deceased Nathan Petrelli. Which, of course, doesn't last. In the next season, after he's gotten his identity back and acquired yet another new motivation, Matt traps him in a Year Inside, Hour Outside nightmare and has very nearly permanently sealed him behind a wall in his basement when Peter of all people saves him. The nightmare allows him to go through years of Character Development, win Peter's forgiveness, and still have time to help save the day from the Big Bad and become a hero. And then the show is canceled.
Despite his Heel-Face Turn, Paul Kellerman from Prison Break arguably has too much blood in his past to deserve what is probably one of the sweetest ends a character from that series can get, and this is without having needed to go through nearly as much adversity as the rest of the cast.
T-Bag also counts. While he may not have gotten the "classy" end that he really wanted, the fact remains that almost all of his villainous peers got what's coming to them in one form or another, while he gets to go back to the relative comfort of his Fox River lifestyle that he basked in the start of the series. The fact that he ultimately outlives Michael Scofield is a testament to this injustice.
Actually, T-Bag had it pretty rough throughout the show. He gets beaten up twice by Abruzzi's henchmen, his hand is hacked off and he's left to die, his plan of Becoming the Mask with his Cole Pfeiffer identity blows up in his face and in the end he's the only one to get sent back to prison. For life. And sees someone reading a GATES book reminding him of Cole Pfeiffer. He may not have died like others, but he didn't get away with anything.
Babylon 5: The Vorlons and the Shadows spent thousands - possibly millions - of years manipulating the younger races into fighting their ideological war. Both were willing to (and did!) wipe out entire planets of civilians just to marginally weaken the other's position. And in the end... they get to leave the galaxy and happily reunite with the other First Ones. And they don't even have to clean up any of the messes they made first!
In season 2 of Degrassi The Next Generation, Paige is raped by Dean. After several incidents where he taunts her about the ordeal, she presses charges against him, but the trial doesn't take place until season 4. However, Dean is found not guilty due to the lack of evidence. Paige gets a small measure of revenge by wrecking Dean's car by deliberately crashing Spinner's car into it.
Jean Paul in The West Wing. Introduced in season four as Zoe's new boyfriend from France, he spends a lot of it acting like a smug rich bastard. Things get taken up a notch in the season's second to last episode, when he slips Zoe a roofie after her graduation, either part of his genius plan to date rape the president's daughter, or to aid terrorists that later kidnap her. After he's nearly beaten to within a inch of his life by an enraged Charlie, he's never seen again after, besides a brief mention that he's stonewalling the authorities with info about his dealer, or possible connection to the terrorists. This may be due to Aaron Sorkin leaving the show, and the new producer trying to avoid his old storylines.
In Doctor Who, back in the first season, (as in, the first first season) when they drop in on The Aztecs, the Bad Priest ends up in charge and the Good Priest is exiled. Also, the Doctor's fiancée gets her heart broken... Though the story is very aware of this and the story is meant to be a historical tragedy.
In Let's Kill Hitler we meet a group dedicated to punishing these. They travel to the end of a war criminal's established timeline and torture them to death. Ironically, they become Karma Houdinis themselves.
A few episodes have had the classic horror-movie "that creature is no threat to us!" character who immediately gets eaten or whatever, but often the Doctor saves the contrarians along with everyone else. The 2007 Christmas special "Voyage of the Damned" subverts it with a plot where nearly every likable character dies, but rude, unhelpful, selfish coward Rickston Slade not only survives the disaster, but turns out to have financially benefited from it. One character even comments on this to the Doctor, saying it's not fair, but you can't, and shouldn't be able to, choose who lives and who dies.
The Doctor told Rose trying to come back to her world would destroy both worlds. However dialogue at the beginning of "Journey's End" shows she tried coming back due to her love for the Doctor before the barriers between worlds broke down, fitting in with her earlier dialogue of saying "So?" about both worlds being destroyed. Nobody ever points this out and for this she gets her own Doctor.
Denise in the Torchwood' miniseries Children of Earth. The politician who suggested that the elite protect their own and select the lowest achieving schools gets to be in charge at the end.
Though by taking over, Denise is denying this status to Prime Minister Green (the guy who willing and quickly agreed to sell out ten percent of the world's children, ordered his loyalist employee to hand over his own children for the sake of the cover up - leading to said employee's Pater Familicide and suicide - and attempted to blame everything on the Americans). So, it's a glass half-empty sort of situation.
The people in the episode "Meat" who were harvesting the meat of a live alien. They cut off slabs of the alien's meat while the alien was still alive just so that they could profit from it. Their punishment? They had their memories erased and were allowed to return to their normal lives. As Jack remarks, what else could they do?
Nip/Tuck: The Carver, a masked serial rapist who disfigures his victims after raping them, and once kills a woman. Most of the third season revolved around catching the Carver. The Carver's last appearance was lounging around on a beach with his girlfriend/sister, looking for their next victim.
Gaius Baltar manages to avoid paying for numerous crimes, notably his part in the complete destruction of the Twelve Colonies. Throughout the show he continuously acts in such a way that ensures viewer fantasies about pummeling the shifty little bastard, and has an implausible amount of sex with practically every woman in the show (Laura Roslin being an honorable exception) despite being an all-around weasel. He then manages to become the president of the fracking colonies despite the extremely noticeable handicap of wandering the halls talking to himself. Plus the religious cult set up around him by, you guessed it, hot young women. He even manages to get a Happily Ever After with Caprica!Six in the Grand Finale.
Caprica-Six deceives Baltar, who initially only thinks he's letting a hot blonde illicitly poke around in the Defense Mainframe to give her company an edge. She's fully aware her actions will lead to untold deaths (and was obviously conflicted, as shown by her mercy-killing a baby in the marketplace) but goes through with it anyway. Her attempt to make up for it failed spectacularly on New Caprica, leading to even more human suffering, though Cavil and Tigh shoulder a lot of the blame for that. She gets to spend life on Earth as a farmer with Baltar and his dreamy hair.
Cavil/One is personally responsible for eradicating two Cylon lines: Daniel/Seven out of jealousy and D'Anna/Three because one of them was too close to remembering who the Final Five were and his role in why the other Skinjobs didn't remember. He instigated the Colonial Holocaust out of a twisted sense of justice for his Cylon ancestors, plus everything he did to Ellen and Saul Tigh. His fate? Goes the gun-in-mouth route when an attempt at a truce goes pear-shaped, with only Ellen explicitly knowing the full story. And she never tells anyone else, on screen.
Kara "Starbuck" Thrace in Season 4 causes Gaeta to lose his leg via Anders' gun because of a Leoben-inspired head trip, painting pictures on the bulkhead while the crew mutters mutinously behind her. She never seems sorry about the event, not even visiting him in sickbay. But then again, almost no one does). She even mocks him about it later (though in her defense, Gaeta instigates the argument).
Sharon Agathon regarding her murder of Natalie(odd, given the character's history). She does spend about an episode and a half in the brig, but that's hardly adequate punishment for the cold-blooded murder of an unarmed person.
A subversion worth mentioning occurs in My Name Is Earl. While making up for a bathroom robbery, Earl has to work at a fast food restaurant where the boss is a distinct Karma Houdini. He has a successful life, a beautiful devoted wife, a beautiful devoted mistress, many awards, and is successfully embezzling a fortune out of the store, whose employees he routinely tortures for petty mistakes. Earl is horrified that karma has not punished him yet, but is sure it will eventually. When it becomes apparent that karma is not going to punish him and he continues to push Earl's buttons, Earl snaps and punches him in the face, knocking him out. Karma swoops in and while he's in the hospital both women visit him at the same time and find out about each other. The wife destroys all his trophies and awards and in the process finds out about his embezzling and reports it, sending him to jail, and allowing the man Earl was trying to help in the first place, become the new manager and everybody is happy. Debatably, Karma was trying to teach Earl that he can't just rely on karma to fix everything all the time, but the only lesson Earl learned was that karma could use his fist as a weapon.
What's the difference? Coincidentally, "O Karma, Where Art Thou?" was the name of this episode.
Benjamin Linus on LOST. His body count from "The Man Behind the Curtain" ALONE was at least a couple dozen, shot Locke and left him for dead in the same pit that the aforementioned dead bodies were unceremoniously dumped, and recently actually KILLED Locke (but he comes back to life). His punishment has been the occasional beating, but he's always been forgiven (somehow).
Beatings in LOST are the equivalent of a slap of the wrist, considering that many of the characters have died horrible, horrible deaths, some of which include being buried alive, blown up while holding sticks of dynamite, shot down with flaming arrows, presumably eaten by a mysterious smoky monster, being blown up in a massive tanker explosion, getting accidentally shot while being pretty, and getting blown up. For some reason, explosions tend to happen a lot on that island.
I think it's a mistake to discount the sheer amount and viciousness of the beatings Benjamin Linus received. One might argue that this is a perfect example of karmic retribution - the bad guy never escapes un-blooded by his victims. And from Season 4 onwards, he's faced much worse than beatings as a result of his villainy. His acknowledgment of these misfortunes as the just consequence of his evil deeds is part of his final Heel-Face Turn and ultimate redemption. Notably, in The End, he is the one character who waits outside the church because he knows he has not yet earned his happy ending.
Principal Reynolds in Lost episode, "Dr. Linus" lets his school fall into disrepair, carries on an inappropriate relationship with the school nurse, and threatens to ruin Alex's future. He's not punished for any of this.
None of that really happened as it was all a dreamworld constructed by Ben Linus and the rest of the characters, a cosmic "waiting room" of sorts where they waited for the last of their friends to die before they all moved on to whatever comes next.
George Hearst in Deadwood is a hair-tearing example of the historical figure type of this trope; he has anyone who stands in his way of obtaining gold extorted or murdered, and forces the town to sell everything to him. He does have a token comeuppance of losing Captain Turner, but he's a pretty heartless prick when it comes to people anyway. His last act is to demand the death of Trixie, a whore who tried to assassinate him. Al murders Jen instead because he loves Trixie and knows Hearst won't be able to tell the difference between the bodies. When satisfied, he rides out of the town that he owns onto his next conquest. Then the series ends.
One Life to Live has Todd, whose rap sheet includes three separate rapes, multiple kidnappings, a bombing he tried to pin on someone else, setting another bomb at a police station, and baby theft. No, he's not in jail. And he's just got his kids back...
And then there's Cole, who had just barely turned 18 and was still in High School when he got high and caused a car crash that left the son of the police chief and the DA paraplegic (only for a few months, as it turned out) and got a slap-on-the-wrist rehab deal. This kid has a bright future ahead of him!
Highlander: The Series had an episode starring Joan Jett as an immortal named Felicia Martin on the run from a brutal hunter named Devereaux...it later turns out she's a remorseless murderer who, centuries earlier, killed Devereaux's wife and baby son. How does this end? She beheads the guy trying to avenge his family, reveals that to get someone's trust and murder their loved ones to throw them off their game is her MO and fights hero Duncan MacLeod. He wins...and spares her life at his idiot sidekick's request. She lives and we never hear from her again, despite immortals portrayed far more sympathetically losing their heads when they murder just one person as opposed to the hundreds Felicia has presumably slaughtered.
Other example: the immortal Kenneth, who appears 9 years old. His MO is getting people to take him in and beheading them when their guard is down. If anyone gets in his way, he murders them, human or no. After betraying everyone and attempting to kill the heroes...he gets threatened by his teacher/foster mother and waltzes out of town, no punishment. Granted, losing her hurts him, but still.
James Horton gets a bit of this, despite Duncan finally killing him off for real. When he was starting his anti-Immortal crusade, he killed Immortal Irena Galati right by her Immortal husband, his rage and Quickening enabling his escape. From this Horton learned to kill his targets only when there were no other Immortals around. Jacob Galati began stalking and killing all Watchers, not differentiating them from The Hunters. This slaughter causes the Watchers' Tribunal to call Joe Dawson on the carpet, blaming his telling Duncan Macleod about their existence for their being compromised. So not only does Horton strike from beyond the grave, he gets Joe in trouble yet again, and to make matters worse, the Tribunal focuses entirely on Joe's actions, and most of all his original reveal to Macleod. This, despite the fact that Duncan would have never known they were being watched by anyone were it not for Horton. But in the Tribunal, Joe is tried and sentenced to death, with the Tribunal repeatedly ignoring any talk of Horton's role in this. Dead? Definitely? In Hell? Maybe. But until Joe cleans house soon after, an on-the-record Karma Houdini.
Actually, he's more of an on-the-record murderous sociopath that everyone's embarrassed by. It's just that the Tribunal spend two episodes following a Red Herring, forgetting that the guy who went around chopping people's heads off probably brought more attention than the guy who sat down for a drink with a couple of immortals (and probably wanting a convenient scapegoat that isn't already dead).
The cops on Homicide: Life on the Street often had to watch murderers they brought in escape punishment. In the finale, another Karma Houdini goes free, and it's the last straw for Tim Bayliss, who resigns his commission and kills the criminal.
Alpha from Dollhouse. He murdered a ton of people, rendered Ballard brain-dead and in the end Echo just lets him walk out? She should have just killed him then and there. That's the last we ever see of him. (Granted they may have been planning to resolve the Alpha plotline at a later time but couldn't because the show got canceled).
Echo couldn't bring herself to kill him knowing that he had Ballard inside him. He does show up again in "Epitaph Two: Return", having undergone a Heel-Face Turn, but doesn't receive any comeuppance.
The third Blackadder. Unlike the first, second, and fourth incarnations of him, he rarely gets the punishment the world's biggest Jerkass should. He often takes advantage of his boss and the Prince of Wales, George, to escape karma at the last minute, even going so far as assuming his identity in the season finale. The modern and distant future Blackadders take after the third.
Whilst not exactly a villain, nothing at all happens to General 'Insanity' Melchett in Blackadder Goes Forth after all the other major characters (including Smug Snake Captain Darling) die in another attempted push.
In season 2 of Burn Notice, an episode revolves around trying to extradite a criminal bastard in exile back to Haiti so he can answer for his crimes. He looted the nation's treasury and fled into hiding. Halfway through the episode, we learn that his dead father, also a criminal and a thief, is nowhere near as dead as suspected, but also escaped into hiding. While the target is apprehended and shipped off to Haiti, his equally guilty partner stays in hiding in the states and the best the heroes can do is try to point the authorities in the right direction so they can eventually do something about the situation.
This trope is most definitely in play when it comes to the wife, Debra, on Everybody Loves Raymond. While it's true that her mother-in-law Marie was smug towards her, there really was no justification for her to treat her husband Ray the way she did, subjecting him to physical and verbal abuse on many occasions in the mid-to-later seasons of the show. On one occasion, she's annoyed at him and shoves him at full force into a bunch of bookshelves, so hard that the books actually fall off the shelves. On another occasion, she's irritated at him for making a joke about her food, so she pours piping hot marinara sauce--right off the stove--onto Ray's crotch. But perhaps the worst was the episode where we learn that Debra actually encourages Ray's own kids to make fun of him behind his back and see him as less of an authority figure. Throughout all this, Ray always ends up being the one to be humiliated in every episode, and keeps coming back to Debra, who maintains a rather smug attitude, bragging about her supposed superiority to Ray on many occasions. If the roles had been reversed, and Ray treated Debra the way she treats him, it clearly would not fly.
Demetrius Harris from Playmakers fits the bill. He implicates a person for murder that his friend committed, is a drug addict, dumps a girl at a hospital who is overdosing, and steals pain medication from a cancer patient he is visiting. Yet he never sees the consequences of his actions and his transgressions are overlooked by the team owner, who wants him to be the face of the franchise.
Alex flip-flops around this trope. While in some episodes she escapes retribution, she is punished quite a bit.
Max, on the other hand, is now made of this trope. Hmm... make things harder for your older brother to win the family wizard contest by taking a book with every single type of monster in existence, release all of these monsters into New York City - and when all of the other Monster Hunters are killed by the hordes of monsters (not to mention God knows how many normal people), not a word is said or anything done to Max. Hell, they were going to take away Alex's powers FOREVER for turning her parents and a teacher into guinea pigs... but Max is probably considered not to be in the running for the contest, anyway.
Hacker: In private industry, if you screw things up, you get the boot; in the civil service, if you screw things up, I get the boot.
Mandy the assassin on 24. In her very first appearance, she blows up an airliner full of civilians, then follows it up by attempting to kill President Palmer (and almost succeeding) at the end of the second season. Then there's the video game, where Tony Almeida watches as she slashes the Governor of California's throat and walks off. She then goes on to execute a CTU field agent (and blow up an innocent couple in their car) in the fourth season before being subdued by Jack Bauer. Better yet, the government knows about all of her past crimes...so, what do they do? Give her full immunity for revealing Marwan's location. She gets to walk away scot-free. By the end of the series, she is the only recurring antagonist to remain at large.
There's also Jonathan, the assassin from season one. He's last seen fleeing the scene after Jack wrecks the initial attempt to kill Senator Palmer, and never mentioned again.
How about Miles Papazian in season 5? Not only did he impede Jack and Chloe several times and get Bill Buchanan fired from CTU, but he eventually switched sides to work for Charles Logan and helped him destroy evidence proving him responsible behind David Palmer's death that Jack had spent several episodes struggling to get, meaning he'd done it all for nothing. Miles then gets transferred to a nice new government job and the worst he gets is a slap in the face from his disgusted now-ex partner Karen Hayes.
Lots of characters on Intelligence (2006) get away with their evil deeds, but Ted Altman is actually rewarded for his villainy as the series goes on.
In The Monkees episode "The Picture Frame", the boys get off the hook for the robbery they were Film Felons for, but the real crooks aren't shown getting in trouble for it in the end.
The Big Bad for the last quarter of season four of Chuck, Vivian Volkoff, is this. She's told she can meet with her father if she helps with a mission, but in the end Beckman doesn't hold up her end of the bargain. Most people would be pissed. Most people would also agree that taking over her father's company, hiring someone to blow up Castle, manipulating the team into retrieving a deadly weapon for her and then leaving them to die is a slight overreaction. After being told Chuck's parents were responsible for her father becoming Volkoff, she tries to kill Sarah to hurt Chuck. She hands over the cure in the end, but only after Chuck gives her a blank identity so that she can start a new life, meaning she not only suffers no retribution from Team Bartowski, but is guaranteed not to have to deal with any consequences from anyone else, either.
Happens to several major villains from The Shadow Line. Gatehouse, Patterson, Jay Wratten, Ratallack and Lia Honey not only all remain at large at the end of the series, they're all in better positions than when they started and are ready to start over with a new incarnation of Counterpoint.
And also Oliver Queen in Smallville after it is revealed in season 6 episode "Reunion" that he indirectly caused the death of a classmate that he bullied in high school and no one except Lex (who's even more'' responsible) calls him out on it, not even Clark.
He implies that his superhero career is motivated partly by a desire to atone for this, so he at least holds himself responsible.
First and foremost, Jane himself. In almost every episode, he pulls outrageous stunts that leave Lisbon doing damage control and would be a gold mine for any defense lawyer — but somehow the bad guy never goes free, and Jane is never punished. The worst example to date is Jane's outright murder of Timothy Carter, who he believed was Red John. Not only was he acquitted by jury nullification, he quickly realized Carter HADN'T been Red John after all. It's not a big surprise that this doesn't bother Jane much; what upsets viewers is that Lisbon knows, and it doesn't seem to bother her either.
However Carter was involved with Red John and had imprisoned a young girl.
Erica Flynn (Morena Baccarin's character, the dating service head), after being arrested, hints at the possibility that she'll be pardoned of murdering her husband in cold blood because her accomplice (who decided to testify against her after she made the mistake of admitting that she never cared for him) is unstable and thus not a verifiable source to her guilt. In her second appearance, we find out she was wrong — but she manages to escape outright in that episode, despite everyone knowing she'll try it.
Mayor Worth from Black Scorpion is political example. Despite being the cause of most of the city's problems and the reason for most of its super villains, he remains free and the mayor. It's even lampshaded.
Darcy: "Doesn't matter what happens, he always survives."
Averted on Criminal Minds 99% of the time; the main UnSub of the episode has gotten away with it a grand total of once. Occasionally played straight with minor characters only tangentially related to the crime, however, a good example being the General Ripper responsible for the unsub's Start of Darkness in "Dorado Falls."
This trope is acknowledged in the episode "To Hell And Back." The FBI discovers the killer is a quadriplegic who manipulates his autistic brother into murdering people for medical experiments, and acknowledge this will sound like nonsense to a jury. Unfortunately for the killer, the brother of one of his victims, assisting the investigation, overhears this, grabs a shotgun, and blows the guy's head off as he lies bedridden and helpless.
The Argentine Los Exitosos Pells had a magnanimous writer: Happy Ending for all. For all the good guys, but also for all the bad guys. The evil assistant who wanted to rule the TV channel got a TV channel for her own, the journalist who wanted to replace the news presenter of the channel is in charge of the new channel news program... and the Corrupt Corporate Executive that was jailed. Last episode, the bad guy has been revealed as such, captured and held behind bars... the end? No! He was freed some months afterwards because of a legal technicism, and began a political career.
Adelai "I Torture People to Death For Laughs" Niska in Firefly manages to escape from Serenity's vengeful crew in "War Stories", a fact they lampshade with Inara telling Mal, "I just wish you'd killed that old bastard." Of course, it's entirely possible that Joss Whedon intended for Niska to get his comeuppance later, but the show was massively Screwed by the Network before that could happen.
It would seem likely that he at least got dead for knowing them in the Big Damn Movie.
In the Wonder Woman TV series, this happens a lot. If someone is participating in a crime and seems to not really want to do it, or better yet does anything to thwart the rest of the criminals, they will never be punished at the end for the crimes they committed. Also some villains escaped: Mariposa in Screaming Javelins, Count Cagliostro in Diana's Disappearing Act, and... Gault's brain in Gault's Brain
Several visitors to Gilligan's Island who know all about the Castaways do nothing to help them get rescued, including the Mosquitoes, Wrong-Way Feldman and Harold Hecuba. Hecuba even steals their idea for a musical Hamlet. None of these people suffer the slightest retribution for their callous treatment of the seven castaways.
Feldman and the deposed dictator both TRY to get the castaways rescued, but Feldman is such a screwup when it comes to navigation the directions he gives are useless, and the dictator just gets deposed again when he tries to send help. The mad scientist and his assistant were in no condition to do much of anything, being trapped in the bodies of a cat and a dog.
Played with by the Russian cosmonauts, who were willing and able to help the castaways off the island...and into a Siberian gulag to keep them from telling the West about the Russian space mission landing thousands of miles off target. Probably the one instance where the Castaways worked to keep from being 'rescued'.
Regina from Once Upon a Time came out on top, no matter what Emma or anyone else does in season 1. However, once she becomes The Atoner and a few more seasons role by, she slowly gets her karma meter payed off with emotional turmoil and attempting to be good for once. Though by season 3 she admits that she can't escape this forever. After all, "Villains don't get happy endings."
Though she commits not one arson, murder, or jaywalking, ER's Jen Greene, the controlling harpy of a wife of protagonist Dr. Mark Greene, certainly qualifies. From close to the beginning she makes it clear that it's her way or the highway in the Greene household, threatening to leave Mark and take their daughter when he stands up to her for a little of what he wants. Then it comes out she's boinking her filthy rich law partner—after years of her hypocritically bitching about Mark's friendship with another woman—following which she sues Mark for divorce, marries said filthy rich law partner, and proceeds to live a more comfortable life than Mark could in his wildest dreams. And as the final twist of the knife, it's heavily implied that after Mark's death she gets custody of the aforementioned daughter, whom she had neglected so badly said daughter turned to drugs.
Mark himself. At the end of Season 7, he deliberately withholds treatment from an Asshole Victim patient—the man had gone on a shooting spree throughout Chicago, killing and injuring numerous people and was thisclose to adding Mark's new wife and baby daughter to that list, out of revenge for Mark taking his abused son away from him. Did the guy deserve to die. Hell, yes—at the hands of a judge, jury, and executioner, not at the hands of a doctor betraying the most basic tenet of his profession.
Kerry Weaver, who pulled numerous duplicitous stunts in order to advance or maintain her career, never incurring punishment for any of them, eventually becoming Chief of Staff after the worst stunt of all. Meanwhile, those she'd betrayed were left to suffer the consequences of her actions.
Except, when Kerry finally starts to find some real happiness in life, her firefighter girlfriend gets killed. Also averted in her final season on the show, where after making a phenomenally stupid decision in her capacity as Chief of Staff (namely, hiring a very talented doctor who was also a very dangerous paranoid schizophrenic), Anspaugh demotes her below Kovac, who promptly chops her out of the budget. It still manages to be a Tear Jerker, as Kerry had as many good points as she did bad ones.
Very rare on Cold Case, and when it does occur, it's almost never the main perp. Examples are few and far between, but include the second killer in "Late Returns" (his devoted sister took the rap for both murders even though she only committed one), the victim's pedophile dad from "Fly Away" (statute of limitations was up, and while he appeared to have become The Atoner over the years, the dude still gave his eight-year-old gonorrhea), the crooked nun who sold babies on the black market in "The Good-bye Room" (only evidence against her was the tape-recorded testimony of a dead woman), and the black widow from "The Runaway Bunny" (the only person who could prove she did it, her stepdaughter, was being hidden away for her own safety; the woman even gives Lilly a wink and a smug grin as she leaves the station, knowing she's untouchable).
A plot point in the Saved by the Bell episode "The Lisa Card". Lisa charges over $300 on her father's credit card and spends the episode terrified of how he'll react. He actually takes it fine and doesn't punish her. However after two days of living in fear, Lisa actually begged him to punish her. She ends up having to take a waitress job to pay the money back (and that's after all her clothes have been sold as well).
Russel has gone through at least two seasons of Survivor making Combat PragmatistUp to Eleven. He admits acting the bad guy deliberately. Some of the first few things he did when he originally joined was to burn one guy's socks and emptying the camp's water supply so that I started to wonder that why didn't they just send him to home after the first chance. They did that to Yau-Man on his second attempt, even though the guy at least had some shades of being nice! Also, Russell is a millionaire who joined because he wanted to practically tell everyone that he's an evil bastard. The only thing that allows us to put a real person here is tha fact that we don't really know if he's evil in real life, too.
In Desperate Housewives the third season has Art Shepard. Lynette found his basement full of half naked boy pictures. Convinced he's a pedophile, she starts massive demonstrations. Art's sister Rebecca managed to dismiss Lynette's doubts then the latter came back to Art in order to apologize herself. Art confesses to Lynette that he really was a unrepentant pedophile and he was hiding his activities from his sister. At the end of the episode, he just leaves Wisteria Lane for a new neighborhood.
It's kind of left up in the air whether he's a pedophile, though. He could have just been getting Lynette back for indirectly causing his sister's death.
Orson Hodge stalks Bree and even kills someone in the final season. When she rejects him, he sends evidence implicating her in a different murder (she only helped bury the body) to the police. He then disappears into the wind and is never brought to justice.
In a related instance, a cop who has it out for Bree doctors evidence to make it look like the murdered man was meeting up with her. He never gets his.
A pair of Black Widows who worked as a tag-team; one would marry a rich man and get in the will, then the other would poison him; they'd then move on to a new state and switch roles. They destroyed all the physical evidence, leaving investigators with only the word of the other as to which one did it, so the DA didn't even bother filing charges.
A man who murdered a woman who looked almost exactly like Sara; this one rankled Grissom quite a bit.
A serial rapist who murdered his last victim so she couldn't identify him, then fled the state.
A Serial Killer who managed to convince the jury she was only an accomplice; she did five years and was protected by double jeopardy. To make matters worse, the father of one of her victims goes to jail for beating her to the brink of death - one only wishes he'd gotten the chance to finish before the cops pulled him off her.
Reese can steel Malcolm’s girl friend and nobody cares but when Malcolm steels Reese’s he’s a horrible person.
The family can get tired of Malcolm and exclude him from their activities but it’s not fair that Malcolm spends more time with his friends and takes their side over his own brother.
Lois forces Malcolm to do multiple extra curricular activities and extra work as well as help his brothers do their work but when all that work takes up his time he gets punished for it.
Lois and Hal agreed to stop smoking together. When she found out that he hid a bunch of cigarettes throughout the house she threatened that if she found any she would force him to eat them. Yet she smokes everyday during her lunch break.
Malcolm was willing to tank his grade despite the fact that Reese viciously beat him.
Mr. Sark on Alias. Every other villain on the show eventually either dies or suffers a Fate Worse than Death, but the Distant Finale shows him still on the loose and still pulling capers, with no suggestion that he'll be stopped any time soon.
Every character on Gossip Girl fits in some way or another (except possibly Nate) but Dan Humphrey manages to stand out. He's emotionally abusive towards Serena, constantly making her feel like she's a bad person for being born on the Upper East Side, berating her every chance he gets and always reminding her that he is a good person and she isn't. With his best friend Vanessa he sabotages her chances of getting into Tish by falsely accusing her of getting her position by cheating, then cheats on her, dumps her, takes her back just so she will babysit his child by another woman while he runs after Serena and then spends the rest of that season making sure Vanessa knows that she is a bad person who doesn't deserve his friendship. When he's in love with Blair he lies to her and tries to get her to leave her fiancé over a situation Dan knows she's misunderstanding, then he humiliates her at her wedding by posting a video of her and Chuck and then puts the blame on Chuck. Just to name a few selected highlights of his behavior. Then of course the finale reveals that he is Gossip Girl which means he's the person who's been stalking them, spying on them, violating their privacy by posting their secrets on his blog, including humiliating his own little sister by making a splash post about her losing her virginity to Chuck (just to name one example of posts where he screwed his sister over). What happens to Dan in the end? Everyone on the Upper East Side forgives him, welcomes him into their circle and he gets to marry Serena.
Vera, for the villainous example. She did plenty of horrible things, like kidnap Trudy, and many fans were crying out for her karma. In the end, however, she literally was just told to walk offscreen and that was the end of it.
Nina was a little understandable at least, as while she was incredibly difficult to her friends, she was under a lot of pressure, and the universe seemed out to make her miserable. So while she didn't get karma directly for her actions, she did not escape without being hurt for other reasons.
Mara, on the other hand, was worse than Nina- while Nina just yelled at her friends a lot, Mara tried to humiliate Jerome by having Joy,her best friend, pretend to fall for him, then dump him in front of everyone when he truly fell for her as revenge for him cheating on her. Then, Once it became apparent Joy had grown feelings for Jerome, she lashed out at her, too. In the end she was quickly redeemed by getting Jerome and Joy back together, and nobody had any hard feelings on her. Problem is, with any other character, they'd have gotten some form of karma for their actions, usually by being ostracized. But for both Nina and Mara nobody even bothered to try and call them out on anything they did.
Julia Roberts's character in Friends. As revenge for a joke Chandler pulled on her in the fourth grade, she gets him to wear her panties for a date. She then gets him to strip off in the bathroom and runs off with his clothes - which is the last she's ever heard of. One wonders if Jean Claude had done that to Monica or Rachel, would he get away too?
The character Joselito in the brazilian comedy show Hermes e Renato. He bullies anything that moves (including his mother), but never is punished!
Frasier: Blaine, Lilith's brother. Established by Frasier early on as a con-man who has conned his way across several states and stolen from Frasier several times, he arrives in a wheelchair and is now a minister. After his followers give generously and Frasier finally trusts him enough to do the same, he escapes with the cash, leaving his empty wheelchair at Frasier's door as a final mocking sign that it had all been another con job.
Ultimately subverted in Hawaii Five-0 in the case of Malia's brother/Chin's former brother in law Gabriel. Gabriel was a Karma Houdini for a long time after Chin got him out of a grand larceny rap. Malia asked Chin to intervene because she was worried that a record would dog him for the rest of his life, but escaping punishment led Gabriel to believe he was impervious to justice. He soon got away with killing Chin's father in a gang initiation gone wrong, became a powerful underworld figure on the mainland and was never convicted of a crime until 15 years later when Chin tied him to crimes old and new.
Steve's bullies would often get away with what they did to him. And the audience would often even laugh at his misery, like for example that once when someone hung him by his suspendors from a hook on the wall!
In an episode when Laura tries to get more Black History in school, someone not only leaves her a note saying that she should "go back to Africa", but also writes a racial slur on her locker door. As far as we know, the person who did this was never caught.
And in another episode, a gang of girl thugs not only steal Laura's jacket by tearing it off her body and beating her, but they also actually shoot another girl because she refused to give them her new shoes. We never see these girls get any punishment.
Step by Step had an episode, where JT and Cody were tricked into signing over the right to their TV show to a network. But as they had legally signed a contract, they couldn't do anything about it. And to make the whole thing even worse, they were even unable to get any money from the deal!
Peter Hale died in season 1, but was resurrected in season 2 and is now living rather comfortably, despite turning Scott, committing many murders and brainwashing Lydia so she could bring him back to life.
Gerard Argent suffers somewhat in that he is now crippled and in constant pain thanks to mountain ash poisoning, but many fans still think he got off lightly after killing innocent werewolves, threatening Scott's mother, torturing Erica, Boyd and Stiles, manipulating Allison into helping him and forcing Jackson to kill himself.
Deucalion is let off scot-free by the heroes despite having a history of violence and being complicit in Erica and Boyd's murders. Aidan and Ethan are even allowed to remain in Beacon Hills, despite being directly responsible for Boyd's death. Subverted in that Aiden dies in the Season 3 finale in a Redemption Equals Death
There is also some Unfortunate Implications at work in the fact that except for Matt and Ennis, all the male villains have lived, while all the female villains (Kate, Victoria, Kali and Jennifer) have died. Subverted in Kate's case, as she is revealed to be alive in the Season 3 finale, and apparently this had been planned since her 'death'
Judith Harper on Two and a Half Men was a complete bitch, who still managed to almost always get what she wanted. The show even started with her getting tired of Alan, despite that he had clearly been a good husband, and bluntly kicking him out of the house, that he alone had paid for over the years. And she was not only allowed to keep said house, but she was also granted an extremely high alimony, leaving Alan to live off his much richer brother Charlie. And still, Judith had the nerve to demand even more money from Alan for her car insurance or their son's class trips, and to start complaining about every woman Alan dated, despite how she herself dated plenty of men. She also helped Alan's second ex-wife to get him screwed in yet another divorce, and when she herself got re-married, she also started treating her second husband like crap when she got tired of him. And despite all this, nothing really bad ever happened to Judith.
Charlie could be really mean towards Alan too, without getting any kind of come-upance. We have one episode, where Charlie refuses to pay back his debt after borrowing money from Alan, and Alan is the one to be humiliated. Or how about the episode, where Charlie decided to crush Alan's hands by having them stuck inside a laptop?
At least half if not more of The X-FilesMonster of the Week villains basically got off scot free even if temporarily thwarted by Mulder and Scully. A common ending was to show the villain in a whole new location with the implication they were still at large and out there. A handful ended up getting their comeuppance in later episodes, but only a handful.
In one episode of Dragnet, an apathetic jury acquits a burglar despite his obvious guilt. Fortunately, the burglar's return to LA and some new technology give the law a second chance.
Equal Justice: The episode "In Confidence" sees a completely guilty murderer and rapist go free because of missing evidence, an eyewitness who can't remember what happened, and his attorney being unable to disclose a confession he gave him.