The parting shot of Columbo’s stellar fourth season, A Deadly State of Mind arguably tops few fans’ favourite episode lists but it remains a strong entry into the canon nevertheless.
Buoyed by a fabulous performance by George Hamilton as the ultra-smooth and ambitious psychiatrist Dr Mark Collier, a cracking cast, one of the series’ most outlandish murders, and a majestic gotcha scene, Deadly State ticks a load of the boxes that keen Columbo viewers are looking for.
Just what are its highest highs? That’s what I’m considering today…
5. Showdown at the docks
A great Columbo episode is rarely without a classic ‘we both know I did it but you’ll never prove it’ clash between detective and villain, and A Deadly State of Mind offers us one of the best.
Feeling fresh and chipper after a morning’s sailing with his book publisher, Dr Collier encounters a dishevelled Columbo at the marina, who breaks the ‘news’ of Nadia Donner’s death. This leads to a juicy discussion about Collier’s whereabouts at the time of Karl Donner’s supposed killing at the hands of intruders as Columbo pours cold water on the psychiatrist’s perfect alibi.
Each man gives as good as he gets in the stand-off, with Columbo telling Collier that he’s not sure that “suspect is a strong enough word” to describe the doctor’s likely guilt, with Collier coolly falling back on the old killer’s refrain: “In that case I should be locked up. Of course I’m not, therefore I assume you have no proof.”
Reminiscent of similarly marvellous moments in the likes of Prescription: Murder, Dead Weight and Double Exposure, this is cat-and-mouse at its best and gives George Hamilton a chance to adroitly show off his smuggest acting manoeuvres.
4. Crashing the party
As Dr Collier enjoys a knees-up at home with a selection of well-to-do pals, who should rock up at 10pm for a cream soda but one Lieutenant Columbo?
Turning up at the killer’s home or place of work is a classic unsettling move by the detective, but one which the fiendish doctor manages to take completely in his stride, even making the ‘murder call’ to Nadia Donner while Columbo sits no more than 15 feet away from him.
Columbo, however, pays close attention to the call and is also able to coerce Collier into revealing that his lighter has a brand new flint in it, after the eagle-eyed Lieutenant noticed a worn-down flint on the carpet of the Donner beach house. It’s brazen stuff from both men, who are putting on an excellent show for the party guests.
3. Nadia’s demise
It takes longer than it ought for Dr Collier long to realise that Nadia Donner’s inherent instability will be the death knell for his professional ambitions if she cracks under police cross-examination, so he decides to off her in one of the most unashamedly preposterous TV murders of them all!
Pumping her with drugs and hypnotising her to attempt to dive into a swimming pool upon hearing the codeword ‘Charles Whelan’ during a later phone call, the powerless Nadia is overcome with a desire to cool down through a dip in her apartment complex pool – nestling five storeys below her balcony. Her eradication is guaranteed.
The concept of the this killing may be somewhat far-fetched and requires a heavy suspension of disbelief, but those viewers who that accept it for what it is – an audacious act of mental manipulation by a master in his field – are likely to gain the most pleasure from this episode.
2. Columbo rage!
After investigating the gruesome death of Nadia Donner and going a night without sleep, Columbo is in absolutely no mood to be trifled with. When Collier’s breezy colleague Dr Borden, therefore, treats him like an office junior she gets the roasting she deserves as the Lieutenant cuts the crap to get straight to the point – absolutely wiping the smirk off Borden’s face in the process.
As with all the cases of Columbo rage, this is tremendous viewing because it’s a rare glimpse into the real Columbo, who is usually hidden away under multiple layers of absent-minded obfuscation. Here, the mask slips and it’s utterly thrilling.
1. The double bluff
The take-down of Dr Collier is easily one of the greatest hits of the entire Columbo opus. Like some of the other very best gotcha moments, notably Suitable for Framing, A Friend in Deed and Candidate for Crime, it’s so good because the reveal is such a stunning revelation to Collier, who until that very moment has believed himself to be in total control.
The killer’s emotional descent from mild irritation and complete self-satisfaction through to panic and despair is wonderfully portrayed by Hamilton, and it’s a scene that just leaves the viewer wanting to jump to their feet and roar their approval. It’s one of the top 5 Columbo gotchas, ergo one of the greatest TV scenes ever recorded!
“The take-down of Dr Collier is easily one of the greatest hits of the entire Columbo opus.”
Let me know your views on the above hot takes, as well as hitting me up with your own favourite moments should they have missed out on inclusion.
As always for articles of this type, you can check out my in-depth review of A Deadly State of Mind if you’ve now got a yearning for more red-hot debate on this episode. You can also find out where I rate Dr Collier in the best-dressed Columbo villains stakes here.
Until next time, adios muchachos!