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Offscreen Karma

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"That's the last time I ever saw him. He married, of course. And inherited his millions. But the crash of '29 hit his interests hard, and he put a pistol in his mouth that year. Or so I read."
Rose, Titanic (1997)

Here's a villain or an otherwise villainous character in the story who has been doing some very cruel and wicked deeds. The heroes are very indignant and want them to be struck with Laser-Guided Karma or at least die a cruel, fitting death if his actions are impossible to forgive, but much to their shock and disgust as well as the audience's, the villain evaded their punishment. They just got lucky.

However, to satisfy the heroes' moral sensibilities, the villain eventually did get punished or killed, but it isn't shown. One character may have witnessed their punishment and was eager to tell the others about it or a narrator of the TV series mentions about the villain's unseen punishment. For the sake of the heroes' (and the audience), it could have been better if they would witness the villain getting what was coming to them, but as long as they're punished, that's good enough for them.

Keep in mind that while this trope usually involves situations where a character who is being unseeingly punished and then the viewer is told about this, another variant is where a character will face their punishment. Poor writing can leave no satisfaction to either the viewers or the characters. In a sense, a character facing their future punishment in the end of the story can be more of an unseen Downer Ending for them.

This can be an Offscreen Moment of Awesome if it's a character who dished out justice to the villain in a way that sounds epic. Sometimes, the punishment is unseen due to how gruesome and graphic it is to the younger audience, especially if it involves them dying in the most unpleasant manner. If a character's Offscreen Karma is deliberately planned by another character, it may result in Make It Look Like an Accident. Such karma can be revealed in a "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue. Compare Bus Crash. This can be related to Put on a Bus to Hell, when the character put on the bus was "bad". One method to prove that the Karma Houdini Warranty has run out for a character.


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    Anime and Manga 

    Fan Works 
  • A Witch in Wartwood: Marnie, the thief at the Bizarre Bazaar, goes through several rounds of this at Anne's hands, culminating in her stealing the prize money from him and using her powers to toss him to the ground.
  • In After the Fall (Miraculous Ladybug), Lila's deceptive nature and willingness to work with Papillion get exposed to all of Paris, along with her temporarily dying at Oni-Chan's hands. It's implied that she got expelled afterwards, as well.
  • Downplayed in Cain, where it's implied that Aldera's reputation plunges when one of Katsuki's brutal assaults on Izuku makes headlines due to it happening immediately after an anti-discrimination assembly. Katsuki doesn't focus on the impact this makes on the school beyond how it directly effects HIM.
  • Weight Off Your Shoulder: Lila gets arrested offscreen shortly after Hawk/Shadow Moth is publicly exposed and captured. Ms. Bustier later recounts overhearing her angrily berating her mother for not being able to pull enough strings to get the charges dropped. As Lila was mainly motivated by her desire for attention, the lack of focus upon her circumstances feels mildly karmic in its own right.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Such karma may be mentioned in a "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue, such as Animal House's Neidermeyer getting fragged by his unit during The Vietnam War (and in case it's not enough, John Landis' segment on Twilight Zone: The Movie has us meeting the people who shot him!).
  • Apocalypto: The Mayas who hunted Jaguar Paw became jaguar food but the rest are well and ready to continue their dubious practices... but history has another thing to say and at the end, the arrival of the Spaniards is strongly implied to set the last brick in the Mayan tomb, as we are talking about greedy conquerors whose civilisation happened to be at the peak of its power, while the Mayan was at its nadir and the rest is history.
  • At the end of The Client, crime boss Uncle Johnny sends his murderous nephew Barry for a drive with two of his associates. For Barry, this is likely to be a one-way trip.
  • The plot of I Come in Peace begins with drug lord Victor Manning blowing away Jack Caine's partner in a sting gone wrong and leaving the country for Brazil, his only other appearance being in a "wish you were here!" postcard he sends Caine at the middle point of the movie just to gloat. The very last lines of the film, after Caine has killed the alien gangster that takes over as the actual Big Bad of the film (and all of Manning's gang), is him declaring that he's going to take some "vacation time" and go hunt down Manning.
  • Positive example: The ending for Cool Runnings mention that the Jamaican team returned for the next Winter Olympic and took the gold.
  • The Dark Knight Rises:
    • John Daggett spends the movie being an overgrown, spoiled-bitch-of-a-child until Bane grows weary of his shit. You don't see what happens to Daggett. You just hear his death announced over the radio.
    • While Real Life Writes the Plot (and Died During Production) prevented a true on-screen resolution of what the hell happened to The Joker after being arrested on the previous film, the official novelization not only mentions in passing that Arkham Asylum was reactivated and he became its only prisoner, but while all kinds of chaotic and anarchic hell are breaking loose on the streets of Gotham thanks to Bane and his army, he remains incarcerated.
  • The Canadian TV Movie Net Worth mostly has a Downer Ending with the NHL players union crushed and the corrupt management victorious. However, the end text explains that one villain was soon fired, another got into legal trouble and decades later several former NHL players sued for the pension money they were denied and got millions of dollars.
  • At the end of Notorious, it's implied that Alex is going to be offed by his Nazi associates for marrying an American spy.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl pretty much implies that all members of the Black Pearl will be tried and hanged for crimes too numerous to mention. At the start of the next film we see that Pintel and Ragetti did escape that fate but this only strengthens the conclusion that they were the only ones.
  • While the Old Man seemed to get away with allowing Faxx to do whatever she wanted and set her up to take the fall in RoboCop 2, RoboCop 3 shows that he's no longer in charge of OCP and it's implied by Johnson's "Remember the Old Man: everyone's expendable" that he was forced out.
  • Part of Shooter's Bob Lee Swagger's Establishing Character Moment is when the men of the Government Conspiracy read through his dossier, mentioning that the bastard Intelligence agent which left him and his friend behind enemy lines to die was "mysteriously" killed and nobody was able to pin anything on Swagger, so they gave him an honorable discharge. Of course, they don't manage to read between the lines.
  • Sleep Tight ends with a very unusual and debatable example which is knowingly caused by the perpetrator himself. Cesar has managed to ruin Clara's life and got away with murdering her boyfriend and framing a young man for her harassment. And he so much wants her to know that it was him who did it all, that he sends her a letter where he confesses everything. Enough said.
  • At the end of Titanic (1997), Rose mentions that her Jerkass ex-fiance lost a bunch of money in the stock market crash of 1929—and he was apparently so distraught by what happened that he committed suicide via pistol-in-mouth.
  • The Wicker Man (1973): Though it happens after the film's end, it is made abundantly clear that the islanders' civilisation is based on a lie and that they are doomed. After all, the sacrifice was a sign of despair which will become more than a sign when the next year of crop failure Lord Summerisle will be the only appropriate sacrifice.
  • The Wild Bunch: The bounty hunter posse led by Deke Thornton, full of trigger-happy idiots that loot the dead and don't care about collateral damage (other than how it may cut into their reward payment) all ride off into the sunset without Thornton after they get their hands on the corpses of the Bunch... and next scene is Sykes arriving to the villa, saying that he saw the posse run into some rebels and get massacred.

  • Late in Deryni, Wencit of Torenth challenges Kelson to a four-on-four duel arcane and claims to have the sanction of the Camberian Council for it. He even claims the Council will send four members to act as referees. Unknown to him, Denis Arilan (auxiliary bishop of Kelson's capital Rhemuth) is also a member of that Council, and no one told him about it. Arilan summons the Council and is told no one has requested their services. Suspecting a plot (Wencit having four extra partisans to help him win in an unfair fight), Arilan asks four actual members of the Council to arbitrate the duel, and they eventually agree. On the morning of the duel, Morgan asks when the Councillors will arrive, and Arilan simply tells him and the others that the Councillors are slightly delayed taking care of the four impostors.
  • Discworld: The behind-the-scenes villain of Snuff, Gravid Rust, is strongly implied to be assassinated by one of Vetinari's Dark Clerks in the wake of the exposure of his shady dealings.
  • Krager from The Elenium might qualify — it's implied at the end of the last book of The Tamuli that he's finally developed cirrhosis of the liver and will die from it.
  • At the end of some versions of Hansel and Gretel, when the two children return home, they learn that their Wicked Stepmother who was behind their getting abandoned in the woods in the first place ended up passing away while they were the witch's prisoners.
  • Near the end of the Honor Harrington book War of Honor, Descroix (a member of the High Ridge Government) flees the ruins of said government with several million dollars of stolen money. It turned out later that she had a side job with the Mesan Alignment, and when her power base collapsed she outlived her usefulness.
  • Magyk: Occasionally happens in the series' traditional "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue for a host of minor characters. Linda Lane, the spy who tipped the Custodian Guard off to Jenna's existence (forcing her family to hide in the marshes), is well-rewarded for doing so, but later gets recognized by a previous victim and murdered. Uma Thurman, who played an integral part in an assassination attempt on Marcia in Flyte and is never suspected for it, freezes to death during the events of Darke.
  • In "Old Iron" of the The Railway Series, two boys were on James' footplate, fiddling with his controls, and then run while James started. At the end, the narrator mentions that they were "soundly walloped" by their fathers.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Whenever Alfred Hitchcock Presents had a story about someone getting away with a crime, the show was forced by the censors to tack on a "but they got caught afterwards" epilogue by Hitchcock, whose deadpan delivery seemed to hint at "yeah, right." These requirements could lead to strange epilogues, such as "And the Desert Shall Blossom", where the only killing is in self defense, so Hitchcock makes up a series of murders so the protagonists could be punished for them.
  • Night Gallery was similar, with the episode "Room with a View" having Serling mention afterwards that the culprits in that episode were imprisoned.
  • On The Blacklist Hector Lorca is a vicious drug lord responsible for numerous murders. He kidnaps Liz and hires the Stewmaker, a ruthless hitman, to torture and kill her. Reddington agrees to fly Lorca out of the US and provide him with a new identity in exchange for information that could save Liz's life. At the end of the episode the good guys are outraged that Lorca is going to get away with all that he did but Reddington points out that Lorca was flown out of the country on one of Reddington's planes. Given how protective Reddington is of Liz, one can assume that Lorca will not survive his flight.
  • The finale of Dinosaurs sees that an Ice Age is certain due to B.P. Richfield's mishandling of nature. The last we see of Richfield is him joyously tossing around the money he earned from the recent change in climates, not caring about his actions- or, in fact, that he won't have long to spend it because he’s going to die soon.
  • We see this happen on Full House during the Season Three episode "Just Say No Way" when DJ, after having been wrongfully accused by her Uncle Jesse of drinking beer, heads back to the school dance to find her friend, Kevin, to confirm her innocence, upon which she runs into Kimmy, who tells her that Kevin, Sam, and Paul (the latter two who tried to put one over on DJ's Uncle Jesse by making it look like SHE tried to manipulate THEM into drinking beer, not vice versa) got caught later themselves and are in extremely big trouble, upon which Kevin does, indeed, confirm DJ's innocence to Danny and Jesse when they show up to find DJ.
  • This is done a lot in the different Law & Order series. There are many cases where the criminal will either get away with their crimes thanks to their defense attorney, or get off because of some powerful connections, only for the detectives to hear shortly afterwards before the credits that someone else got vigilantly justice against them, or the fallout ruined their reputation and everyone they were connected to abandoned them.
  • As of season 7 in The West Wing, Jeff Haffley, a smug, unlikable, and pragmatic Republican, is given a bit of a final offscreen comeuppance when the Republicans lose control of the house, and the last we hear about Haffley is that he's out of a job.

  • This happens in many Grecian Tragedies, since characters rarely died on-stage, instead choosing to run offstage, followed later by a messenger who announces to all present how (for example) the mountain itself opened up and the gods smited the character and her entire family.
  • In A Man for All Seasons, various villains conspire to have Thomas More unjustly executed for treason. The narrator gives us their subsequent fates:
    Cromwell was beheaded for high treason five years after More. The archbishop was burned at the stake. The Duke of Norfolk should have been executed for high treason, but the king died of syphilis the night before. Richard Rich became chancellor of England and died in his bed.
  • The Wizard of Oz (2011) has Miss Gulch, the Kansas counterpart to the Wicked Witch of the West. While she isn't seen in the 1939 film after Toto escapes her clutches while she's taking him to the pound (unless you count the part where Dorothy sees her transform into the Witch after the house is picked up by the tornado), in some stage adaptations after Dorothy returns to Kansas and wakes up in her bed, one of the farmhands mentions that Miss Gulch was hit in the head by debris from the tornado and had to be sent to the hospital.
  • Examples from William Shakespeare:
    • Hamlet: Once most of the main characters are dead, a British ambassador briefly appears just long enough to inform anyone who's not dead that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
    • Positive example: In As You Like It, the Duke's evil brother Frederick is not seen on stage after he sets out to kill his brother. Off-stage, he undergoes a Heel–Faith Turn after meeting a cleric and devotes his life to the priesthood. A bit of Deus ex Machina as this conveniently leaves the throne open for the Duke to reclaim it.
    • Othello: Iago survives the events of the play, manipulating the titular character into murdering his wife and committing suicide shortly afterward, but his schemes are exposed and he is arrested at the end, with the last spoken line of the play making it clear that he will face justice for his crimes.

    Video Games 
  • The Fallout: New Vegas quest Heartache by the Number ultimately becomes a choice between personal, direct, onscreen karma with likely negative long-term consequences, and lesser but longer-lasting and hitting more of the people ultimately responsible offscreen karma. After Cass becomes convinced Crimson Caravan and the Van Graffs have been hitting other caravan businesses in the Mojave, she wants to kill the Mojave leaders of both, but you can convince her to instead help you gather evidence and turn it over to the NCR, with her noting that the NCR can put Crimson Caravan and the Van Graffs through worse than she could. If you kill the Mojave leaders, the home leaders of the two use it to pressure NCR in the ending slides, while if you turn over evidence the NCR uses it to rein in the businesses — and if you stole schematics from the Gun Runners for Crimson Caravan, the Mojave leaders of Crimson Caravan and the Van Graffs are mysteriously killed by suspiciously well-armed raiders when recalled from the Mojave.
  • In the end of Mega Man Battle Network 6: Cybeast Gregar and Cybeast Falzar, the last game in the series, Lord Wily (Big Bad for 4 games) is mentioned in the epilogue to have been finally captured and sentenced to prison. Good thing, though, is that he turned a new leaf while there.

    Web Animation 

    Web Novel 
  • Can You Spare a Quarter?: Frank goes to confront Jamie's father shortly after the father almost raped his son Jamie to death, but the story cuts away moments before the confrontation. Later police say that when they were about to arrest the father they found him brutally beaten up.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: In "One Last Job", Jake gets double-crossed by his old gang after they conspire to steal a sugar-gem known as "the Baker's Shard", and they manage to get away with it. Jake assures his daughter Jake Jr. that "Finn and I will bust their apples tomorrow. Or maybe the Banana Guards will get 'em." While we don't find out what happened to the other members of the gang, in "Dentist" we discover Tiffany the goblin boy broke his teeth trying to take a bite of the shard.
  • In the Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "Dueling Eds", Eddy is beaten by Rolf for desecrating one of his traditions while Kevin films the battle. As Rolf pays his respects to the Eds for consoling with him (in which stuffing eels in their pants), Kevin refuses to partake in this, and Rolf supposedly beats him up offscreen ("Son of a gun, you insult Rolf by denying the eels?!"). Generally, Kevin almost always gets away with his antagonistic actions.
  • A mild version occurs in the Super Friends 1973/74 episode "The Menace of the White Dwarf". Wendy, Marvin and Wonder Dog decide to fly to Washington D.C. to warn the rest of the Super Friends personally about Raven's threat instead of calling them on the phone. As a result they get captured by Raven. At the end of the episode Marvin says that Batman gave them quite a talking to about their bad judgment.
  • Thomas & Friends: In "Dirty Work", Diesel had made lies about Duck to The Fat Controller and the other engines that Duck called some names about them to the troublesome trucks, and succeeded in doing so. In the end of "A Close Shave", however, The Fat Controller told Duck that he realized Diesel's lies and sent him packing to the other railway. This doesn’t stop him from bringing Diesel back in several other episodes.