Episode highlights / Opinion / Season 3

5 best moments from Columbo Mind Over Mayhem

Columbo Mind Over Mayhem
Columbo’s dictaphone is the only piece of technology in this episode that hasn’t dated terribly

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!

columbo and dog
Someone’s been a VERY naughty boy…

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

Columbo Mind Over Mayhem
This ain’t the welcome wagon…

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 Mind Over Mayhem
Tough-talking Columbo never fails to float my boat. Y tu?

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

Columbo Jose Ferrer
Neither man is able to take much pleasure from the closure of the case

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’…

Like this site? Then contribute to its upkeep from just $3

Columbo Mind Over Mayhem
Looking good, 70s’ computer technology!
How did you like this article?

24 thoughts on “5 best moments from Columbo Mind Over Mayhem

  1. I missed the scene of Dog’s expulsion from obedience school! MeTV must have cut it, grrrr. Would have loved that, having a basically uncooperative dog myself.

  2. A pocket calculator is more advanced..🤣 True though. And I’m so glad they didn’t have that robot solve the crime..😭😩😂

  3. yes its no secret that Mind over mayhem isn’t one of the best seventies however its certainly not the worst but anyone who does hate it wont have to worry as its not being aired this weekend on 5 USA
    here is this weekends line up
    Saturday 8th February
    5.00 Murder with too many notes ( ill give that one a miss I think )

    Sunday 9th February
    12.00 Old fashioned Murder ( ill skip that one as well I think )
    1.35 An exercise in fatality
    3.40 Columbo likes the nightlife
    5.30 Murder by the book

    Not the best line up Murder by the book easily pick of the bunch with fatality in second and I haven’t seen nightlife for ages and cant remember too much about it

  4. Hear, hear.

    Also, putting aside the legal aspects, from an ethical perspecitve I’ve always found Neil’s arrest to be Columbo at his lowest. I find it somewhat surprising that while on this website there’s been a whole discussion about how potentially morally disquieting is, say, Columbo stucking a potato into exhaust pipe of Brimmer’s car, arresting a totally innocent man in order to effectively blackmail the suspect into confession happens to be in the top 5 scenes of Mind over Mayhem… I have serious issue with this otherwise rather entertaining episode just because of that scene. To me, Paul Galesko & Macbeth couple have less reasons to complain in terms of questionable “gotcha” than Dr Cahill!

  5. No. 3 always bothered me because it made me wonder how this could possibly be legal, let alone admissible in court. I realise police are allowed to lie to suspects, but to actually falsely arrest someone they know is innocent in order to trick his father into confessing? At first I assumed it wasn’t a real arrest and Neil was somehow in on the whole thing, but based on Columbo’s later remarks, that doesn’t appear to be the case – not to mention that no one else actually witnessed the confession and Columbo didn’t read Cahill his rights or anything. Surely all he’d have to say in court is “I knew my son couldn’t be guilty, so I made up a fake ‘confession’ in order to save him.”

    • My thoughts exactly! It hardly matters if the confession is admissible- Cahill doesn’t tell Columbo information that only the killer would have known or anything like that.

    • great to see columbophile back in business January is a real slog bit like mind over mayhem and its been a while since we have had a best 5 moments post good to see them back on the road , MOH gas never got me excited perhaps Dr cahill is simply too boring but thats not he only negative aspect but for me at least its the biggest negative contributor also the ending dosent satisfy or thrill me in the least , Going back to least interesting/boring killers of the seventies run perhaps thats an idea for columbophile to chew on for a future post , mine would be ,
      1) Dr cahill mind over mayhem
      2) I think its Ruth Lyton old fashioned murder So forgettable i almost cant remember her name
      3) General Holister dead weight
      4) mexican bullfighter in a matter of honor I think its montoya
      5) Its a toss up between dr mason Dial a murder and perhaps Emmett Clayton the most dangerous match probably Dr mason but i prefer how to dial a murder than most dangerous match marginally
      Then theirs them 2 from dagger of the mind and whoever it was in last salute but there in the absolutely cant stand category for me which should be separate.

      • Your choices for least interesting/boring top 5 of the 70’s is right on spot. I can’t go with Swanny from Last Salute because he is not exposed until the end. Also “Dagger Of The Mind” was a sub par episode but the duo were not exactly boring in any way. Pretty much every other episode is terrific with good or great killers.

        • Good point maybe the duo in dagger are more in the irritating than dull category , I might replace them with Paul Gerard Murder under glass , I forgot it first time around as i consider it one of the poorest seventies episodes and I dont recall any funny scenes between the two even though a lot of people like the dinner scene which Is a bit contrived and silly in my opinion and if i was to replace swanny it would be with milo janus from an exercise in fatality which is another episode i dont rate too highly .

  6. Dog, his name for a lack of names. I love the scene in the episode Negative Reaction, where Columbo asks DVD is he has a picture of a dog because the Bassett is heartbroken. I adore watching Peter Falk because of these adorable scenes. Like taking an executive to lunch at a drive-in, and then so much attention on the Tray!

  7. re : Mind over Mayhem/Bassett Hound :

    It’s well known that Bassett Hounds are virtually untrainable – so it’s more likely Columbo’s dog would never have been accepted into a prestigious dog training school in the first place !
    Also, it’s neither healthy or advisable to pick up a Bassett under one arm around it’s middle (as Columbo always does). I’m guessing there’s an out of shot extra supporting the uncomplaining hound’s substantial bottom !

  8. For me it is usually the guest stars which keep me coming back again and again. Love listening to Jose Ferrer. Perfect voice for this character. Enjoyed the short glimpse of the Nicholson affection. Margaret was indeed amazingly stoic but generally speaking most next of kin in this series don’t have much time to grieve.

    • You’re right about there not generally being much time to show grief (especially in a shorter episode), but even so Margaret seems amazingly unmoved by the loss of her husband, who she was cooing at only minutes before his death. COLD FISH!

  9. Jessica Walter is indeed an outstanding actor, as were Jose Ferrer, Lew Ayres, and Robert Walker, Junior. For me, that’s part of what makes this episode such a disappointment. The scenes with them are so far below what I’ve seen them do in other roles that the sheer waste of talent overshadows any excellence they may have brought to it. That said, the scene with Dog in the principal’s office at the obedience school is beyond hilarious.

    • This is an episode that really benefits from Dog’s presence, given that many of his human counterparts are so uninteresting. I enjoy the scene where Columbo leaves Dog with Merv the mechanic, because the guy is so dense I’m not sure whether he or Dog have the higher IQ.

    • You’re spot on. There’s very little to enjoy from watching any of these fine actors. I think Walker Jr comes out of it best (at least he gets to show a bit of emotion), but for the others it’s a very dreary effort. Spelberg and Dog comprehensively outshine them.

      • The joke in Little Stevie Spelberg’s name annoys me so much that I can’t enjoy his scenes. I have a soft spot for Merv the mechanic, though. If I were face to face with a homicide detective having to deal with this bizarre situation where someone I know has been murdered at your workplace, I’d probably seem pretty dumb too.

  10. The most memorable moment for me is Columbo’s line to Dr. Cahill: “That first day I couldn’t give a hoot in hell about a thief. I was lookin’ for a cigar smoker and there you were.”

  11. Best moments should include mention of the actors Jose Ferrer and Jessica Walter who is still amazing. Be sure to see her in Play Misty for Me with Clint Eastwood.


Leave a Reply to columbophile Cancel reply