It may be a bit of a dog’s dinner of an episode, but Mind Over Mayhem does, at least, offer something different in terms of its futuristic setting in a cybernetic institute.
The downside to that, of course, is that the global Armageddon simulator, the lumbering robot and the ENORMOUS computer systems, with their hundreds of flashing lights, have aged terribly, making what might have once appeared cutting edge now seem to be laughably dated.
Still, there’s no such thing as a Columbo episode that’s completely without merit (even Last Salute to the Commodore), so here’s what I consider the highest highs of one of the classic era’s most forgettable outings…
5. Bad Dog!
In a pleasant change to the norm, our first encounter with the good Lieutenant isn’t at the crime scene. Instead he’s having to deal with the errant behaviour of his slovenly dog, who has been expelled from dog obedience school for ‘demoralising the other students’.
What did the lovable basset do that led to this drastic action? Did he go berserk and worry at an instructor’s throat? Did he perhaps try and get frisky with one of foxy classmates? Or did he simply sit and drool instead of fetching the stick? Sadly we never find out, but his antics cause the poor detective no small amount of shame in what is a funny and charming scene.
4. Pool car 1 – 0 Elderly chemist
Distracted from his experiments with raw SMACK by a car horn sounding on his driveway, Dr Cahill’s mortal enemy, elderly chemist Howard Nicholson, innocently potters out to meet his destiny – and that destiny is a hit-and-run attack at Cahill’s hands that crumples his ancient frame.
By Columbo standards, this is a pretty action-packed little set piece. But, on a deeper level, it’s also something of a heart-wrencher. Much as he’s a bit of a cantankerous old codger, old Howard wanders out to his driveway believing that it’s his scorching young wife, Margaret, booping her horn for his attention after leaving him minutes earlier to attend an all-night group therapy session.
Howard’s final, thoughts, then, will have been desperate confusion as to why his beloved wife was smashing him down – extremely sad thoughts to take to the grave. It all makes Margaret’s subsequent total lack of emotion over the loss of her husband all the more jarring.
3. Uncompromising Columbo
Columbo has to stoop low to conquer Dr Cahill – by fitting up his bobblehead son, Neil, for the murder of Howard Nicholson.
Accusing Cahill Jr of bumping off Howard due to his amorous intentions towards Howard’s wife Margaret (with whom the Lieutenant falsely claims Neil’s having an affair), Columbo leaves his chief suspect in the impossible position of admitting his guilt, or allowing his son to carry the can for a crime he never committed.
Whether an act or not, it’s always satisfying to see Columbo adopting the tough-talking, uncompromising stance to drive the outcomes he needs. It also shows just how good a judge of character he is because, despite a fractious relationship with Marshall throughout, he’s figured out exactly how to best his celebrated adversary. Which, conveniently, segues very nicely to…
2. Finding common ground at last
Despite a lot of nonsense throughout, Mind Over Mayhem successfully manages to round out on a poignant note.
Columbo pulls all the right strings to ensure Cahill is driven to admit his guilt to the detective, who is lying in wait for the Doctor after his son is dragged away. And despite never seeing eye-to-eye, the two men share a companionable smoke as the Lieutenant explains how he cracked the case.
The scene humanises the otherwise unlikeable Cahill, who, in killing to protect his son – and in admitting his guilt to free his son – was, at last, acting out of love.
Can we consider this the first step on the path to redemption for Cahill after years of dominating and browbeating his son? Perhaps. And that may ultimately be the episode’s biggest success: leaving the reflective viewer with deeper questions to ponder well beyond the closing credits.
1. Columbo at the cutting edge
It’s an episode low on standout moments, but the best of the bunch must be Columbo’s introduction to MM7 – the robotic creation of the institute’s ‘boy genius’, Steve Spelberg. Falk hits just the right level of amazement and bafflement as the colossal android lumbers out of a cupboard to shake hands.
When Columbo and Spelberg are together, the episode is at its most watchable as man and boy swiftly building a believable rapport as they bond over dogs and robots.
Although the robot has aged dreadfully (a pocket calculator is more advanced), all credit to Falk for handling the scene in that warm, human way that he does so well to ensure that what could be ridiculous viewing is really very nicely done. It’s also a credit to the writers that they didn’t overplay the novelty of the robot and have it overshadow the whole episode, or do something ridiculous like have it actually solve the crime.
“Falk hits just the right level of amazement as the colossal android lumbers out of a cupboard.”
That’s it for now, gang. If you need a more detailed reminder of what Mind Over Mayhem is all about, read my full episode review here.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the most memorable moments in this episode, so do sing out below and get the opinions flowing – unless, of course (and to quote Dr Cahill), ‘you haven’t got the brains for it’…