The audience: WHHAAATTT??!!!
In short, you've done something so Awesome—so undeniably badass—that it makes up for the hundreds of rules you broke along the way.
This is the reason that the Military Maverick and the Cowboy Cop have careers. This is how I Did What I Had to Do gets you off the hook (mostly). It's one thing to say Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!. But it's another thing, when doing the right thing actually WORKS.
Now the end result must be sufficiently awesome to override the righteous fury that has built up in Da Chief when his subordinate flouted the rules. Because hey, success is never blamed and victors aren't judged.
This trope applies to specific examples. In fiction, if the heroes are generally on the money but they disobey a high directive, they may still suffer some degree of recrimination, but still be allowed to continue on their way. In this trope, the awesome deed either cancels out punishment mostly or completely; and it is specifically stated as such. In rare cases, this trope will show someone being rewarded for their disobedience, usually with a promotion (check out the quote up top.) In this case, there's especially likely to be a Milholland Relationship Moment between the hero and the boss whom they expected punishment from. Compare Sparing the Aces.
- In StrikerS Sound Stage X, Teana is nearly put on trial for unwittingly collaborating with the terrorist mastermind but is let off with a warning thanks to her efforts in containing the damage caused by the incident.
- Star Trek:
- The granddaddy of these must be Captain James T. Kirk. He put this trope into action when he cheated on an Academy test, and rather than be kicked out, he was given a commendation. For original thinking. It helped that the Academy test he 'cheated' on was an Unwinnable Training Scenario designed specifically to find out what a cadet does when faced with a scenario where all their choices are bad ones; Kirk's response to a no-win scenario was to improvise, think out of the box and use a few dirty tricks so he could Take a Third Option, which is exactly the kind of qualities Starfleet want in their officers.
- The 2009 Star Trek movie takes it farther, but first subverts it. Kirk is actually about to be kicked out for cheating on the test. But somehow he ends up on the Enterprise and tops his cheating with actually attempting a mutiny against Spock and disobeying the acting Captain's orders. Being that it was his disregard of orders that led to the defeat of the Big Bad and the saving of (almost) every planet in the Federation, one can begin to see how he actually skips all the way to the Captain's chair at the end.
- Star Trek Into Darkness then subverts it again, by having Kirk's maverick actions cause untold problems and almost getting him discharged from Starfleet.
- At the end of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Kirk and his bunch manage to nearly completely duck the surefire court-martialing and dismissal from Starfleet that was coming their way for stealing the Enterprise and subsequently blowing it up. The Federation President states that it is specifically because Kirk avoided having the mystery probe destroy the Earth by rescuing the humpbacked whales from extinction. Of course, there has to be some kind of punishment, so Kirk gets demoted. From the desk job of Admiral he hated so much.
- Harry Potter
- In the second book, Dumbledore tells him he broke about a hundred school rules, then gives him an Award for Special Services to the School because saving Ginny and the rest of the school from Tom Riddle (aka Voldemort) outweighed the rule breaking.
- It's even a plot point in the fifth book, where a Tyrant Takes the Helm and begins banning things left and right to stop any attempt by the Power Trio to teach their fellow students defense against the dark arts. Harry even notes at one point that now that Dumbledore has virtually no power, he can't count on this to save him. He eventually does so anyway, reasoning that even if he's expelled, the students he taught will be safer. Then it sort of works, as Dumbledore manages to shift all blame on himself, letting the members and Harry get away scot-free.
- In Aquarium, the protagonist is advised by a more experienced spy:
If you break the rules and get into difficulties you will end up before a GRU tribunal. If you keep carefully to the rules but have a failure, again it is you who will be to blame, on the grounds that you applied the rule book too dogmatically. But if you are successful, everybody will back you up and forgive you everything, including breaches of our most important rules, on the grounds that you applied the rules in a creative and flexible manner, ignoring out-of-date and obsolete rules.
- In Death series: Eve Dallas is one of the best cops there is. She has broken a lot of rules and laws to achieve actual justice. While it seems that her superiors don't know about the methods she uses to achieve results, there are indications that they know she is working around the law, but as long as she succeeds, they have no problem with that.
- Vorkosigan Saga: Miles Vorkosigan manages this often in his career in ImpSec. Miles has a...problem with following orders, and those above constantly complain about his "excessive initiative" or curse him by wishing he one day commands someone "just like him". This trope is probably most notable in The Vor Game. Miles is sent to a deadend position for just 6 months to prove he can follow orders, he comes home in 3 months with a charge of treason but is forgiven because his refusal to keep his head down managed to prevent a crazy near-homicidal commanding officer from allowing a group of techs that refused to obey his orders (to pointlessly risk themselves cleaning up a toxic spill) from freezing to death. He is put under the one man who could possible deal with him and sent on a simple intelligence gathering mission, by the end of which he manages to have 3 separate 'superior officers' locked in the brig so he can go about leading a mercenary troop to defend a wormhole from an enemy invasion which no one ever asked him to do. But since he did manage to save everyone he ends up with a promotion and his dream job of playing admiral for said military fleet.
- Harry Dresden of The Dresden Files is able to get away with some Black Magic in Dead Beat through a combination of Loophole Abuse, necessity, and the fact that reanimating a Tyrannosaurus rex was so unspeakably awesome that even some of the Wardens were impressed.
- They needed the firepower. As he'd pointed out, the Wardens had already drafted him. Harry Dresden is one of the best examples of a cowboy PI in literature, and doesn't play well with rules or authority.
- Some of the Summer Court's best hitmen have let him get away on the basis of personal respect and Loophole Abuse.
- Unfortunately, Murphy repeatedly gets none of this.
- Tavi of Jim Butcher's Codex Alera does this several times a book. Once, he wrote his own pardons.
- Almost everyone in the Tortall Universe does this.
- Alanna kick-starts off the tradition by disguising her gender to become a knight in Song of the Lioness. By the time it's revealed she's a girl, she runs off to avoid the political implications, although she gets a pardon for exposing Roger's treachery. Then she retrieves the Dominion Jewel and stops the Big Bad, so instead of getting kicked out or killed, she actually becomes the realm's top knight by invoking Vetinari Job Security.
- Daine in the The Immortals wrecks a foreign ruler's entire palace and his army using her gods-given powers to reanimate the dinosaurs in the museum (and before you cry foul, this book was written before The Dresden Files) and essentially destroys his seat of power. Okay, she gets away with this more because the ruler had been a horrible one and the gods themselves were going to destroy his land if he wasn't replaced, but seriously, would you really want to mess with her?
- Wyldon of Cavall actually invokes this trope with Kel in Protector of the Small He knows that she's too much of a Mama Bear to leave her people to their fates, so he deliberately orders her not to go so she won't have to wait for authorization. Then, when she kills the man responsible for the killing machines, she gets commended rather than killed for desertion.
- The Badass Crew of Stargate SG-1 always tended to bend the rules a little (their leader is a Colonel Badass, after all), but in the season one finale they outright disobey Congress and launch an unauthorized mission right after the Gate has been ordered buried. The fact that they save Earth from an invasion is what keeps them from being spending the rest of their lives in Ft. Leavenworth.
- Lt. Cmdr. Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation outright disobeys Capt. Picard (on a hunch, no less) and refuses to regroup with the fleet. He also manages to not only catch the disguised Romulan ships but also owns them magnificently, putting an end to their incursion. Picard smilingly tells Data afterward that rather than court-martial him, he's actually issuing him a commendation. This one isn't quite a straight example, however; Data was in command of another starship at the time, and The Captain of a ship has a measure of leeway with orders from on high.
- The Nitpicker's Guide observes that this was unnecessarily dramatic anyway: Data had only to say, "Please stand by, Captain, I may have another solution."
- Star Trek: Voyager: Admiral Kathryn Janeway violates nearly 154 rules by traveling back in time and swindling the Klingons. The fact that her actions get Voyager home nearly 15 years early and with added technology as a bonus results in her past self getting a promotion... to Admiral (it probably helps that her past self hadn't violated, or even had the intent to violate, most of those 154 rules yet).
- In the pilot of Airwolf, Stringfellow Hawke robs the United States Freakin' Government and withholds their prize titular helicopter (though he agrees to fly it on their behalf in the future). He wisely did this after stealing said helicopter from terrorist dictators and the Mad Scientist that invented it. He also killed said Mad Scientist, who'd pissed off the government by murdering a bunch of Feds during a test run.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Die is Cast: "If you pull a stunt like that again, I'll courtmartial you. Or I'll promote you."
- Several characters from M*A*S*H, most notably Hawkeye, get out of trouble this way on a regular basis.
- Subverted on CSI, when the team manage to solve the case despite all the evidence being stolen while they were having breakfast at a nearby diner. Ecklie says it won't be a case of "No harm, no foul" and that there will still be an internal investigation. Played straight in that he's implied to only be doing it to get at Grissom.
- Merlin in the series finale uses his magic, forbidden in Camelot, to curbstomp the troops at Camlann and save all of Camelot and by extension the United Kingdoms. Add one Reasonable Authority Figure and it's not hard to guess what happened afterwards.
- Oni: In one level, you can find a computer terminal that reveals information on Terrance Griffin himself. It turns out that the Board he answers to are aware that he cares more for results than in following procedure. They turned a blind eye to it because he has done more to oppose The Syndicate than any other agent in the Technological Crimes Task Force. Despite this, it says that they feel that they can't keep turning a blind eye to it for much longer.
- Commander Shepard from the Mass Effect series makes his/her Spectre career out of this. In the first game s/he hijacks the grounded Normandy SR-1 in order to pursue Saren. This prevents Sovereign from capturing the Citadel and starting the Reaper invasion in full-force.
- Discussed Trope in Destiny: The Taken King.
Cayde-6: Everyone loves a bad idea when it works.
- The Henchman Guide (a corollary to the Evil Overlord List) mentions, in its section on Trusted Lieutenants:
7: If you follow orders and fail, the Evil Overlord will claim he told you to do something different, and your body parts will be used a castle decorations. If you disobey orders and succeed, the EO will act as if what you did was his idea, and you will be commended. The Moral: Do what works.
- Exo Squad:
- Invoked in the episode "The Price of Courage", when Simbacca encourages Marsh to bypass the chain of command and personally lead a vital massive counterattack against Neosapiens. True enough, Marsh wins and is not even reprimanded for bending the regulations.
- Even earlier, in the first season finale, Marsh's squad effectively mutinies in the middle of a battle but ends up saving the Terran flagship and so they are merely grounded for a year instead of execution.
- Used in Original Airbenders, when Kai uses aggressive airbending to save Jinora. Tenzin comments on this.
- Tenzin: An airbender never attacks a defenseless opponent. [beat] But that was very good technique.
- When James Cameron directed Titanic (1997), he ran almost a half-a-year over schedule, nearly doubled the allotted budget, drove nearly the entire cast and crew to revolt, and even assaulted a Fox executive. A bajillion dollars at the box office and 11 Academy Awards later, all is forgiven.
- Admiral Horatio Nelson, who could technically have been court-martialed at least once and probably several times, got away with it because he was too much of a badass to throw away.
- Of course, the Admiralty did make their displeasure known in other ways, such as denying him a command at a time when he was in financial trouble and really needed the extra pay. He only got command of a ship again when war broke out and his aggressive style was needed again.
- Lee Soon-Shin was a Korean admiral during Korea's Joseon Dynasty. He was known for his ingenuity, including building an armored ship affectionately termed the "Turtle Ship" due to its shape. When it looked as though Japan was gearing up for an invasion, he was told to remain on land as the army got ready. He went ahead and ignored his orders and sent his much smaller fleet out to beat Japan. This was considered an act of treason and he was actually scheduled to be executed but the King was impressed (y'know, with him halting an entire invasion and all), so he kept him alive and in command of Korea's navy. Admiral Lee went on to kick the crap out of Japan's invading forces about thirty more times.