Main Karma Houdini Discussion

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02:28:15 AM Nov 25th 2016
edited by Connacht
Could it be splitted between actively avoiding karma because of planning, skills or victorious challenge (the true "Houdini") and avoiding karma only because the chance never occurred, someone else grant him the avoidance or even luck (not a true conjurer, more a Karma Jumper I would say)? i.e. the assassin manages to destroy all the evidence and gets another guy framed while all witnesses are slain by him, so he walks away whistling, or he is discovered by the police but escapes from a secret passage to never be seen again, this is a true Karma Houdini who tricks his deserved fate... but if the weapon with his fingerprints is lost in the dump by a moron detective, or is stolen by a criminal who didn't know, or is dropped in the sea during a fight without anybody noticing, it's due to someone else, it's luck for his side.
10:21:03 AM Jul 18th 2015
If a villain never gets punished because they turn good are they still a Karma Houdini?
11:44:16 AM Mar 20th 2016
Depends. If he works his ass off to prove he's not the same guy as he was before, or if his crimes were relatively small compared to post-Heel–Face Turn good he did then no. If he crossed the Moral Event Horizon and then pulled Heel–Face Turn that did not end in Redemption Equals Death, then yes he may be Karma Houdini. But essentally yes, Heel–Face Turn and Karma Houdini are not mutally exclusive.
02:41:31 AM Jun 19th 2015
I'm starting to think that people misuse this trope a lot to the point that if you ever do something perceived by the fans as bad and then you didn't die because of it, then you are a Karma Houdini. Never mind if you felt horrible about it, never mind if you made up some of it, you did one bad thing and then you deserve a Karmic Death, otherwise you're a Karma Houdini.

What the hell? Since when we try to act like Gods and decide what's bad, what's good, what deserves punishment and what doesn't?
05:29:49 PM Apr 18th 2013
Although Fast Eddie overrode lu127's decision to make Karma Houdini villain-only, is it okay if we still cut or rewrite the examples of complaining about characters not getting adeqate comeback. Some of the "crimes" that tropers write are petty.

For example: someone wrote that the Cutie Mark Crusaders got away with getting into a fight that freed Discord.

Granted they were wrong, but they didn't intentionally do anything bad. Plus, they also had to write an essay, which is an adequate punishment.
06:01:54 AM Apr 19th 2013
Yes. Still cut non-examples, especially ones where they actually GET punished.

I've seen people post Karma Houdini for characters that were killed for their actions. It's silly.
09:30:00 AM Apr 19th 2013
I's no wonder the decision was made in the first place. Some tropers just misuse Karma Houdini, really. Some of the examples usually qualify for Idiot Houdini, really.
12:56:38 AM Sep 17th 2013
I think examples should not be posted for a series of any kind until it's over. The point of a Karma Houdini is that as far as canon goes, the Houdini was never punished and never will be. You can't know whether they qualify until the story is finished.
10:12:08 PM Apr 8th 2013
edited by Wyvernil
Since the current ruling seems to be that a character does not need to be a villain to qualify as a Karma Houdini, I decided to rewrite the list of reasons why a character might be spared from karma to take this into account (the old list was getting a bit bloated anyway). If no one minds, I'll put this on the Analysis page rather than the main page, but I decided to vet it here to make sure it was okay first. If it would be problematic, let me know.

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...
  • The Untouchable - 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. At this point, their victory would make them a Karma Houdini by definition.
  • 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.
10:46:42 PM Apr 8th 2013
Moral Dissonance can also apply for non-villains.
04:02:52 AM Apr 9th 2013
edited by MagBas
About the What Did I Do example: Moral Dissonance is when a character contradicts their own stated morals and it is not noted in the own work, not when it contradicts the morals of the audience(Values Dissonance means that the morals of the character are different that the morals of modern audiences).
01:18:22 PM Apr 9th 2013
Karma Houdinis aren't always noted within the work itself, either.
05:14:00 PM Apr 10th 2013
edited by
Looks like there's no objections. The above list is now available for viewing and editing on the Analysis tab of Karma Houdini. Hopefully it won't get too bloated this time.

Edit(in response to below statement): Perhaps it's a bit too soon to say (though there weren't any responses in a couple of days). But, if there are any objections, feel free to voice them anyway and we can decide what needs to be fixed or removed.
06:44:40 AM Apr 11th 2013
edited by Larkmarn
While I really like your list and don't think there would be any objection, I think two days is a bit short to declare that there aren't any objections. Just saying.
11:52:32 AM Mar 23rd 2013
edited by Knight9910
Alright, I think we really desperately need to do something here.

I can totally understand why you're trying to make this trope villain only. I think cutting down on Complaining About Shows You Don't Like is a good thing.

That said, the way you were going about it was all wrong. At best the previous description merely implied that the trope was villain only. It's never explicitly stated and as such a lot of people don't realize it. When they then post their example only to be jumped on they feel victimized. The fact that there are so many people on this discussion page complaining about it should be proof of that.

So, in order to try and fix this issue, I put a big bold-faced note on the main trope page in order to make it absolutely clear that this trope is villain only.
12:09:07 PM Mar 23rd 2013
edited by Knight9910
Also thinking, maybe we should put such a note on all the example pages too?

EDIT: Done.
12:34:52 PM Mar 23rd 2013
edited by Knight9910
I was going to say we should allow non-villain examples, but actually I think it' better, for a certain definition of villain. That is to say, if we define villain as "an evil character, whether the show classifies them as such or not" as opposed to just "an antagonist."

So yeah, it's fine, but we did still really need a notice.
05:10:50 AM Apr 7th 2013
It's generally expected that the villain gets punished and the hero doesn't. Villains not getting punished is therefore trope-worthy, while heroes not getting punished isn't.
12:04:48 PM Apr 8th 2013
Why then are heroes subject to What the Hell, Hero? when they are called on something? Not to mention anti-heroic types.

Here's the thing: karma as a concept isn't exclusive to villains.
01:23:53 PM Apr 8th 2013
edited by MagBas
Evil acts being noted is not the same thing than evil acts being punished.
10:45:39 PM Apr 8th 2013
That's what this trope is about. And even the good guys do unscrupulous things.
05:06:19 PM Jan 21st 2013
I've been seeing a lot of Natter about how a certain Karma Houdini isn't really one when you think about it, like when it's assumed that the subject gets what's coming to them.

I think we ought to add a trope about karma that is merely inferred rather than explicitly shown or stated. (I tried to add it to YKTTW earlier but my damn internet refuses to behave...)
03:08:50 PM Dec 30th 2012
This trope not applying to non-villains make no sense. Is it not supposed to mean lack of punishment for reprehensible things?
03:16:53 PM Dec 30th 2012
The reasoning of lu127 when they closed the trope repair shop thread in their 19 December post was: "No, what really needs to be done is ignore this crowner, because the idea is only a gate for people to complain about characters they don't like not getting adequate comeback.

Karma Houdini can just stay as applying to villanis. I'll remove the non-villainous examples."
04:46:15 PM Apr 2nd 2013
The thing is, we expect to see the villain punished and the hero rewarded. A hero not getting punished would be People Sit on Chairs.
12:01:03 PM Apr 8th 2013
No. A hero not getting punished would be along the lines of a Designated Hero.
01:44:01 PM Apr 16th 2014
edited by ading
@azul: A Designated Hero is a Designated Hero. A non-designated hero isn't a designated hero. Punishment or not isn't relevant.
02:54:31 PM Apr 17th 2014
People Sit on Chairs is not something that the audience expects, but yes, quoting the own People Sit on Chairs page, "People Sit On Chairs don't convey any meaning — they aren't storytelling conventions at all, they're just things that happen normally or incidentally during the storytelling."
06:59:52 PM Dec 2nd 2012
Hi there. I'm a current troper here at TV Tropes, and I would like to add in something of an algorithm test to help people understand if the Karma Houdini the work they are interested in are of the kind the cast and its innocents are suffering from, so that their minds do not break solely on Grimdark Apathy Syndrome, because that sucks balls.

Problem is, where could I post this test at? Thank you for replying and see you later.
02:59:17 AM Dec 3rd 2012
Trope Talk, maybe?
07:11:05 PM Nov 7th 2012
Would a villain being sympathetic enough that punishment would seem overly harsh be an acceptable reason for an author to use this trope?
06:31:16 AM Feb 28th 2012
Does tsundere violence(IE Love Hina) ever count for this trope? I would think that slapstick damage that doesn't even stay is just a form of comedy, and this trope actually refers to legit evasion of (viewer perceived) justice..
12:25:33 PM Mar 3rd 2012
No, because a tsundere is not a villainous character.
07:28:46 PM Sep 11th 2011
edited by RL_Nice
Does it count as a Karma Houdini if a character is not shown being punished, but it is assumed that they will be?

I was wondering this after seeing this trope mentioned in the Headscratchers page for The Iron Giant.

To be specific, in that film, Mansley orders a nuclear missile to be launched into the middle of a crowded town, right in front of the general. I'd assume he was arrested after that, but it isn't explicitly shown.
09:15:49 PM Nov 9th 2011
I do believe that there should be some real life examples like that police officer who ate some confiscated marijuana brownies, called 911 because he thought he was dying, and got a slap on the wrists. He can actually get a job as an officer in another jurisdiction.
05:59:22 AM Aug 12th 2011
On the Live Action TV page, Sam Puckett keeps getting deleted due to not being a villain. I'm sure there are other characters aside from her who are displayed as heroic but haven't been erased ;\
04:12:31 AM Oct 26th 2011
So? Delete the examples. The existence of misuse isn't a very good reason to further misuse. She might count in iSell Penny Tees, though.
10:26:19 AM Jul 21st 2011
What is the parallel trope for a protagonist?
04:10:11 AM Oct 26th 2011
None exists. I asked the same question a few discussions above.
11:49:32 AM Mar 20th 2016
Uhh what WOULD be parallel trope for good guy? Hero getting punished for being hero? Hero not being rewarded for being hero? I don't really see what is there to invert.
08:48:22 AM Jul 7th 2011
I believe Karma Houdini should be renamed to show that only villains fit this trope. I recently included Arthur's D.W. on this list not knowing this only applied to villains. The name Karma Houdini just doesn't say that.
08:50:07 AM Jul 7th 2011
That's why you should read the trope's description instead of just the name.
09:27:49 AM Jul 7th 2011
edited by MadMan400096
Even so, it's still asking for people to miss the point. That's why Completely Missing the Point was renamed Comically Missing the Point.
04:13:38 AM Oct 26th 2011
^^ Unfortunately, most tropers only do that if the name makes no sense.
05:29:05 PM May 10th 2011
edited by DivineRose125
What happened to the Real Life section of Karma Houdini? Where did it go?
05:46:49 PM May 10th 2011
Received a cut request by Iaculus in 30 April with "Seems like exactly the sort of trope where a Real Life section is only going to cause trouble." as cut reason. The article was cut.
11:35:08 AM May 15th 2011
But it wasn't causing trouble. So why should it be removed on those grounds?
02:53:55 PM Aug 6th 2011
It wasn't, I agree with above troper. However, (Probably) there was too much debate on what was and wasn't karma. For example escaped Nazi war criminals may have avoided Nuremberg but probably lived in eternal fear of the soldiers of their enemies coming after them.
04:47:39 PM Apr 2nd 2013
edited by ading
The thing is, everyone dies in Real Life, so noone can escape punishment completely.
06:20:14 AM Apr 3rd 2011
edited by ading
Is there a similar trope for heroes? As in, the hero escapes karmic punishment?
06:35:52 AM Apr 3rd 2011
No, not exists. And, considering that the motive to this page be created was because "villains be punished" is a Omnipresent Trope(something that definitively not applies to heroes-except in [Can't Get Away With Nuthin'] settings.)not exists any reason to create a trope similar to heroes.
03:48:35 PM Mar 31st 2011
Are Vegeta and Buu from DBZ karma houdinis? Before the story both were responsible for destroying who knows how many planets of populated beings without a shred of remorse. In the series itself Vegeta slew a bunch of Nameks and bragged out it later. He abandoned his son for the early part his life willingly. Against Cell he allowed Cell to achieve his perfect form and he allowed himself to be controlled by an evil magician to have the power to satisfy his pride. Yet, after the Frieza saga no one ever really calls him out on any of his crap or about how he had killed who knows how many without a shred of remorse. Does his heel face turn somehow protect him or does his past and getting the crap beat out of him numerous times count as Karma?

Pretty much the same with Buu. Does the fact Evil Buu is insane to begin wtih and later killed and Fat Buu is pretty much naively innocent make Buu not a karma houdini?
06:25:18 AM Apr 3rd 2011
edited by MagBas
Well, as you noted, Evil Buu was killed(and, considering his reincarnation- Killed Off for Real). And Vegeta was killed in the Freeza saga- of a form specially humiliating to his pride. Fat Buu, however, qualifies.
05:36:26 AM Mar 31st 2011
Their is a small problem with the picture. The episode is from season 5, and he doesn't get shot until season 6.
10:56:22 AM Mar 17th 2011
Should this be YMMV? I saw an example on a page that is debatable.

Further, can a protagonist be a Karma Houdini if they're on the darker rungs of the Sliding Scale Of Antiheroes?
06:11:51 PM Mar 21st 2011
Based in the description, one character needs be a villain to qualify.
04:29:53 AM Nov 19th 2011
No. The villain either gets punished or he does not.
03:50:02 PM Feb 9th 2011
I think a picture of DW a from Arthur would be better for this trope as most of the Wall Banger examples for this show involve her so she would be the perfect poster child for it.
10:43:23 AM Feb 13th 2011
No. DW is not one villain, by definition she can not be one Karma Houdini
10:00:21 AM Feb 19th 2011
I do think we need a different picture. As far as I can tell, it's some Deal Withthe Devil. No "Guy escapes punishment".
08:16:16 PM Mar 21st 2011
DW is a brat who just happens to avoid getting punished because she's four years old, but she is not a Complete Monster who crosses the Moral Event Horizon and never gets punished for it. Therefore, she does not qualify.
06:18:59 AM Apr 3rd 2011
Where does it say anything about Complete Monsters or Moral E Vent Horizon?
10:53:58 AM Jan 18th 2011
When did this trope shift from being about a horribly villain who totally escapes, unpunished for their crimes - which is a nice, neat and entirely straightforward trope - to being about complaining about a character did something a bit mean and it was never addressed? One example involves a woman splashing water on a man's face, as far as I can tell. Seriously?
04:06:21 PM Feb 6th 2011
Two words: Trope Decay. If there are any examples that don't qualify and is just incessant Wangsting, I would be more than happy to axe said entries. I personally think this trope SHOULD be reserved for Complete Monsters who cross the Moral Event Horizon and either get no punishment at all, or a punishment that does not fit the crime, NOT Jerkass Teenagers or Jerkass Wives. And no, splashing your husband in the face with water is not crossing the Moral Event Horizon.
04:09:31 PM Feb 6th 2011
edited by MagBas
I already cleaned the trope- if i missed the way read the trope repair shop thread, or to be more exact the posts starting by post 36.
06:18:13 AM Apr 3rd 2011
It's not necessarily Complete MOnsters.
08:17:12 AM Dec 18th 2010
edited by taltamir
the description of the Karma Houdini trope is basically "Laser Guided Karma misses". The description for laser guided karma is that it is an unrealistic and anvilicious space whale aesop.

There are 3 issues with it: 1. If it is merely a subversion of another trope, why does it merit its own name?

2. Since it subverts the unrealistic space whale aesop by having a realistic "nothing happens" why is it even mentioned? might as well make a trope called "gravity". And naturally, because it is something so mundane there are a ridiculous amount of examples, enough that each medium gets their own page.

3. A good number of the examples actually are not subversions of laser guided karma, but an actual opposite; the opposite is where villains don't just get away with doing bad things, but they get away with doing things that there is absolutely no logical explanation how they could have gotten away with it...

I think the best approach is to amend the definition to fit #3, where its not that villain gets away, but that they get away with no punishment where there is no logical explanation on how they could escape retribution.
09:35:26 AM Dec 18th 2010
... I can write a couple paragraphs, or I can say no. I'll just say no.

Well, maybe one. That's not the definition of karma houdini. There's a reason why that sentence is in italics; it's meant to elucidate the point, not actually be the point. Laser guided karma has nothing to do with its basis, just plain old karma. Even if it were, that's definitely not the definition of laser guided karma. It only gets to be "an unrealistic and anvilicious space whale aesop" if taken too far.

Or in shorter terms, no.
07:51:21 AM Oct 4th 2010
Isn't this pretty subjective? After all, what's an "appropriate" or "proportional" punishment depends very much on who you ask, unless you're in a court of law.
05:15:17 AM Oct 17th 2010
edited by MagBas
I concurs. Not helps that until if you remove the part about "apropriate" and "proportional" punishment, Karma Houdini sounds closer to one aversion of other trope than one trope in their own right. Or that the own list of possible motives to one creator create one Karma Houdini includes Values Dissonance.
06:17:13 AM Apr 3rd 2011
Laser-Guided Karma is when the punishment is somehow directly related to the crime. It's got nothing to do with Karma H Oudini.
09:30:21 PM Aug 24th 2010
"Some authors simply grow enamored of particular characters, and don't want to see them punished or killed (even if the character did just happen to cook the heroine's button-cute little brother in a stew and serve it to her with a side of foie gras)."

lol, Nightmare Fuel much?
04:11:17 PM Jul 31st 2010
I have a question to ask: What if the villain "does" get a punishment, but the punishment is so weak compared to the villain's actions that in the end they still get away scot-free, but only with a few consequences.

Does that qualify as a Karma Houdini? Or does the Karma Houdini have to receive no punishment whatsoever?
11:17:27 PM Jul 31st 2010
Yes. See the fifth paragraph of the intro.
01:23:22 PM Sep 24th 2010
would thta nopt mean that Stephanie Brown from the batman comics would qualify? I mean, she caused a city-wide gang war, and while I don't know for a fact, I very much doubt all the victims of such were gang members. her punishment? noje, as far as I can determine, since the volunteer wokr in africa could be dropped anytime, and while i donlt think she4 and Tim have yet got bakc togter, I imagine it's only a matter of time. While I imagine that moots people in the US that did that would be executed. while it's a retcon she survived, it probably counts.
01:05:59 AM Sep 27th 2010
I have no idea what you just said.
02:51:59 AM Nov 2nd 2010
He (poorly) said that Stephanie Brown was a karma houdini because she started a gang war that got a lot of people killed. And he's an idiot if you don't mind me saying because she didn't intend to start it, she was absoloutely horrified at what she had done and spent so much time trying to fix it only to get caught by a complete monster and tortured for most of the second half only to die at the end of it. She got better in a retcon, but still, she did nothing that put over on the evil side of the equation, let alone reach this territory.

Also stabeler is wrong that she would be executed, since she didn't intend for the gang war to start and she didn't kill anyone with her own hands she could not be charged with murder. So he fails spelling, law, and reading comprehension forever.
04:30:12 AM Jul 27th 2010
Added "because it's funny" to the list of reasons. One of the big ones that comes to mind is Garland Green's fate in Con Air, the scene of him getting away with his crimes was only kept in the final movie because test audiences laughed their asses off at it.
03:34:27 PM May 3rd 2010
The paragraph about most Karma Houdini's being Magnificent Bastards bothers me a lot. A bit about the audience sometimes wanting the villain to get away with it all is fine, but usually this is not the case.
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