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The madness unleashed on Cambodia by Pol Pot and his colleagues will never be forgotten, but so far, it has gone unpunished.
~ A historian explaining about Pol Pot dying without answering for his actions.

A "Karma Houdini" is a villain who is never punished (or is insufficiently punished) for their evil actions by the end of a story, thus escaping justice and "pulling a Houdini" (disappearing) from the way of karma. As such, when the story is over, this villain is not really defeated; he remains in position to continue his misdeeds, either towards the protagonists or a new target or, in the most extreme cases, is still as much of a threat as he was before.

Note: No matter how painless the death is, deceased villains automatically do not count as Karma Houdini's. The only way for a dead character to count is if it is of natural causes (i.e., Abigail Williams, Former Head Trancy, or Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis). Certain exceptions are Billie227 who, despite being actually deceased, is much alive and can take control of any person's computer and create psychological torment to her victims. Another example are the GTA Online Protagonists as no matter how many times they are killed (either by hostile NPCs or by each other), they never actually stay dead whatsoever.

A second thing to note is that villains whose status is dependent upon player choice cannot qualify unless they do not receive punishment for their actions in any possible ending of the game.

A Karma Houdini happens when:

  1. The villain is thwarted but not aptly punished in the resolution. This often happens when a villain is simply humiliated or harmed in a comical manner, but only faces a temporary punishment when they deserve worse, not enough to prevent them from striking again in the next episode, season or installment. (Examples: Gargamel in The Smurfs comic book and cartoon series, Sugar from Total Drama, and Darlene from Gravity Falls.)
  2. The villain makes an escape at the story's climax. Probably the most common type. Often, the villain escapes while the heroes are preoccupied with some other danger (usually that they created), sometimes because, in most stories, preventing whatever disaster was caused by a villain is more important than going after the villain himself. Sometimes this is done to set up a sequel, or at least leave the story open for one. An example is Hannibal Lecter. However, this does not count when they do get their just desserts in the sequel/final installment.
  3. The villain simply exits the story after performing their action, and is not encountered by the hero again. This usually occurs with minor antagonists (as opposed to central ones), as the most common scenario for this type of Karma Houdini is that the protagonist simply escapes the villain, who is not seen again because they are not relevant to the rest of the story (Examples: The Architect from The Matrix Reloaded, Honest John Foulfellow and The Coachman in Disney's Pinocchio, Scratcher from Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July, and Bomb Voyage from The Incredibles)
  4. The villain is forgiven at the last second, without being truly redeemed. These villains spend the story causing strife, but when the conflict is over, the protagonists do not bear them any ill will, and in some case welcome them into their group of friends. They do stop doing evil, but never apologize and do not display any intention to bettering themselves, and their misdeeds are swept under the rug. (Examples: Aroin Twilight Saga, Dag from Barnyard, or The Misfits in Jem and the Holograms)
  5. The villain outright wins at the end of the story, defeating the hero and succeeding in all their evil plans. For extremely obvious reasons, this is, by far, the least common type and can reasonably be expected to occur only in the very darkest of stories, and is in fact very common in modern horror films. (Examples: Audrey II in the most common ending of Little Shop of Horrors, Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, Noah Cross from Chinatown, Mr. Hands from The Mr. Bill Show, the Fruit Winders Gang in all of their comic strips, and Bagul in Sinister)
  6. The villain is more of a jerk and thus many don't see the need to punish them (in general, they punish themselves). These kinds of villains are usually from sitcoms or children's cartoons, and thus are not really threats. Because of this, many heroes simply let the villain do what they want. (Examples: Chick Hicks from Cars)
  7. The villain is ousted and/or exiled but not brought to justice. These villains are driven out by the hero or some other force of good, but is not aptly defeated. (Examples: Idi Amin, Doc Hopper, Agatha Trunchbull, and Abigail Williams)

Pages in category "Karma Houdini"

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