There are many types of Columbo endings, drawing many types of emotional response from the viewer.
Sometimes we feel euphoric (Suitable for Framing). At other times we share the same satisfaction as the Lieutenant when he’s taking out the worst of the trash (Candidate for Crime, Stitch in Crime, Exercise in Fatality). We may even be left with a mild sense of melancholy when a sympathetic villain submits to the arm of the law (Any Old Port, Swan Song, Try & Catch Me).
There are occasions, though, when the closing of a case represents a no-win scenario for all involved – including Columbo. His is a world where lives are lost and others left shattered; where his successes can lead to heartache and misery for innocent parties. Sometimes Columbo even has to employ underhand tactics to draw out the killer in ways that seem to overstep some sort of self-imposed moral boundary.
Those are the examples we’re considering today: the episode finales that leave the viewer or the detective (or both) feeling flat in the knowledge that while justice may have been done, it has come at a high price. The strength of these endings is that they leave the viewer with plenty to ponder long after credits roll. As such, they are to be celebrated.
10. Columbo Goes to College
The smackdown of smart-ass college kids Justin and Coop would have made for triumphant viewing were it not for the Lieutenant’s obvious dismay at their callous disregard for the consequences of their actions.
The criminal BFFs brazenly admit to the killing of Professor Rusk for little better reason than to save their own skins from their overbearing fathers – and because they knew how to pull off such a hyper-intelligent, cutting-edge murder. The crying shame of it is that their method of murder clearly showcased just how smart they really were once properly motivated. If only it could have been harnessed in a selfless manner.
Columbo’s world-weary head shake as the two are carted away makes his feelings clear: what a waste of life and talent; and what kind of world are we living in when kids kill just for the heck of it?
9. Etude in Black
The first of several examples in this list of a murderous man’s actions crushing the life of a significant woman in his life, the fate of Janice Benedict after husband Alex’s guilt is established fairly plucks at the heartstrings.
Janice has had good reason to suspect Alex of philandering, but never thought him capable of murder until the emotional finale in which his guilt is established and he whispers her a loving farewell before submitting to police custody. Most disheartening for Janice is that it was her testimony that Alex didn’t place a carnation in his button hole after the concert that really seals his fate.
Columbo’s gloom at this manner of closing the case is reflected in his reaction: he sags into an auditorium chair to watch a rerun of the concert (and likely reflect on the waste of life) in near pitch darkness.
8. A Case of Immunity
An interesting example of a case closure providing little satisfaction to the doughty Lieutenant, the bait-and-switch that ensnared Hassan Salah and forced his confession ends on a truly flat note.
Columbo has conspired with the Suari King to put First Secretary Salah at sufficient ease in a place of safety that he’s happy to admit committing murder. When the King – whom Salah had believed was on a plane home – emerges from the backroom having heard every treacherous word, Salah has two choices: face (presumably barbaric) justice in Suaria, or waive his diplomatic immunity and hand himself over to Lieutenant Columbo. He chooses the latter and signs a written confession on the spot.
The telling moment that gives us insight into Columbo’s state of mind here is the closing scene. The chipper King flashes the detective a smile and a cheeky thumbs up. Columbo’s response is much more pessimistic. He gives a half-hearted wave and looks away, with a face as long as a wet weekend. And what it tells us is that the Lieutenant has taken little pleasure in the subterfuge that has put the guilty party through the emotional wringer.
7. Mind Over Mayhem
It’s not entirely devoid of hope, but the final scene of Mind Over Mayhem rings a solemn note with both detective and killer having reason to reflect on the virtues of their recent actions.
In order to elicit a confession from Dr Marshall Cahill, Columbo stages the sham arrest of his son, Neil, whom he accuses of murder based on false evidence and has him dragged off downtown in front of his father’s eyes. Cahill Snr. isn’t exactly Father of the Year material, having browbeaten his son for time immemorial, but the sight of him being fitted up for a crime he didn’t commit is enough to stir his paternal instincts.
Dashing after the arrest party, Cahill encounters Columbo waiting for him in the corridor outside. During their closing exchange, Columbo apologises for the treatment of Neil, while reassuring Cahill that he knows he committed murder in order to protect his son. It’s an ending that goes someway to humanising Cahill Senior, but the tough love he has dispensed to Neil over many years, allied with the Lieutenant’s underhand deception, rounds things out in a decidedly cheerless manner.
6. Double Shock
Columbo never had a more fearsome opponent than Mrs Peck – the irascible housekeeper who has presided over towel tending and pitcher filling at the Paris family mansion for more than 30 years.
The Lieutenant’s careless and untidy ways alienate him from Mrs Peck on numerous occasions throughout the episode, and his interactions with her provide a hefty whack of the episode’s numerous comic asides. However, despite her crotchety nature, the revelation that Clifford Paris was indeed killed by his twin nephews Norman and Dexter would turn her small world completely upside down.
We are told that Mrs Peck has “more love for the family than the family has”, so for her to be present at the downfall of her beloved boys – and to hear Norman admit the pair’s guilt – would represent a grievous blow. That’s a fact not lost on Columbo, who gently takes her hand and ushers her off to what can only be considered (at best) an uncertain future as credits roll.
5. Old Fashioned Murder
The Lytton family is torn to ribbons by the revelation that quiet spinster Ruth was the woman responsible for a double homicide – including that of her own brother Edward.
Once again we see Columbo resort to dubious methods to close the case. Here, he suggests to Ruth’s beloved niece (or possibly illegitimate daughter) Janie that Ruth killed her father years before because of her hatred for him and her entire family – an act unthinkable to Janie, who dotes on her aunt and whose love, she believes, has held the family together. To avoid the scandal of a public trial, Ruth admits to the double murder – but only after she gets Columbo to publicly recant his statement that he believes Ruth killed Janie’s father (even though she almost certainly did).
Ruth maintains her dignity, as well as Janie’s affections, to the end, while her act of leaving the room on a man’s arm has significance and meaning after so long living in the shadow of socialite sister Phyllis. Columbo offering Ruth his arm is his way of apologising for backing her into a corner, but it can’t overcome the fact that Ruth has lived a joyless life mostly thanks to her idiot sister and unsympathetic brother. All in all, it’s a sad end to a sad case.
4. Dead Weight
Another example of an innocent woman enduring an emotional rollercoaster at the hands of a villainous man, Helen Stewart’s plight seems particularly dispiriting.
A down-on-her-luck divorcée, who lives with her overbearing and insensitive mother, Helen was so desperate for love and understanding that she was willing to abandon her own convictions and fall for the charms of a charismatic, courteous suitor – even though she saw him commit murder.
A victim of gaslighting and moral subversion throughout the episode, Helen ultimately realises that she has been betrayed by both General Hollister and herself only when Columbo provides definitive proof of the General’s guilt – in exactly the manner Helen herself witnessed.
Quite what emotional damage this latest setback in her life will do to Helen in the long-term can only be guessed at as the tender Lieutenant leads her away.
A truly harrowing example of the fall-out from Columbo’s cases, Elizabeth Van Wick’s tear-stained face following her husband’s arrest for the murder of her mother is perhaps Playback’s defining moment.
We know that Harold Van Wick is a cheating, murdering cur. Elizabeth, however, believes him to be her knight in shining armour and a man who has devoted himself to her care and wellbeing. When push comes to shove, though, Elizabeth sees the truth. Her refusal to back up Harold’s insistence that his hated mother-in-law was alive and well when he left for an appointment at an art gallery will damn her husband to a life behind bars.
Thematically similar to Etude in Black, the strength of Gena Rowland’s performance gives this a much greater emotional punch. Columbo meeting Elizabeth’s gaze and then looking away before the final freeze frame also hints at the spiritual turmoil he’s going through himself.
2. Forgotten Lady
To my mind the saddest Columbo finale of all, there are simply no winners at the end of Forgotten Lady.
The Lieutenant has correctly deduced that Grace Wheeler killed husband Henry, but he has also found out about her lethal, inoperable brain aneurysm that Henry had kept secret from her, and which was the root cause of her erratic behaviour.
By the time Columbo has figured things out, Grace’s mental decline means she can no longer recall killing Henry. To prevent her spending her final weeks of life in police custody, Grace’s erstwhile movie dance partner (and true love) Ned Diamond takes the rap. It’ll take Columbo a month or so to break his story. By then, Grace will be at peace.
Enhanced by the majestic performances of Janet Leigh and John Payne, the conclusion to Forgotten Lady is like no other Columbo episode. The melancholy nature of the scene is summarised as Columbo wistfully looks on at Grace as she sits wide-eyed and oblivious to it all, watching herself on the home cinema screen as he and Ned leave her to her fate.
1. Negative Reaction
The most enigmatic Columbo ending of all is also the one that inspires the most debate amongst fans; the Lieutenant’s slump-shouldered reaction ahead of the final freeze-frame being open to several interpretations.
Some believe he’s simply exhausted at the end of an arduous case, but I’ve always felt there’s much more to it than that. His attitude is one of complete despondency. That’s not like him at all, hence why I believe we should seek a deeper meaning to his actions.
We can postulate that the sight of the photograph of murder victim Frances Galesko served to remind him of the sobering loss of life, but even that doesn’t seem to go far enough. That’s why I’ve long held the belief that Columbo is down on himself after having lied so brazenly to force his suspect’s hand. It’s telling because it not only gives us genuine insight into what Columbo is willing to do in the line of duty, but how he subsequently feels about having done it.
We’ve seen Columbo employ suspect tactics to trick his quarry into giving themselves away in the past – notably in Death Lends a Hand. But on this occasion, forcing Galesko’s hand and cracking the case brings him no satisfaction. In fact he gives every impression of a man who is struggling with internal conflict brought about by his own actions.
Consider: the desperate Galesko identifies the incriminating camera after Columbo tells him he ‘accidentally’ destroyed the original photo of Frances by dropping it in hydrochloric acid. The detective even says he’ll swear to it in court that the image wasn’t mistakenly reversed when it was reprinted. We know Columbo isn’t afraid to employ trickery, but outright lies don’t sit so easily with him. He can barely bring himself to look his adversary in the eye as he explains the significance of Galesko’s incriminating actions. He even says “Sorry, sir” just before the aghast photographer is read his rights and led away.
To me that’s a clear indication that his actions have crossed a self-imposed moral boundary, leaving the Lieutenant empty and jaded despite achieving his ultimate aim. It’s a classic example of a Pyrrhic victory. Columbo loves his job and is entirely content with his lot in life, but there are still times when the weight of what he’s involved in bears heavily upon him.
We know Columbo isn’t afraid to employ trickery, but outright lies don’t sit so easily with him.
As always, I would welcome reader comments on this subject. Which are the episodes that leave you feeling flat once they’re all over? And are there any in my list that you disagree with? Get involved and have your say!
In the meantime, I’ll be slogging away with my review of Murder With Too Many Notes. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it, amirite?
OMGoodness, I have never disagreed with a Columbophile post more than this one. Either I don’t have a clear understanding of a “flat” ending or CPhile doesn’t. Most of these aren’t flat at all esp. College Columbo. In Double Shock, the head of house becomes the lone heiress. How’s that bad. While Etude leaves the wife in a bad way, so do all imprisonments. And, it surely doesn’t compare to Playback where the wife is now without mother and husband, and only has her brother to take care of her…awkward. Old-Fashioned Murder is flat b/c of all the negative consequences, and the villainess is likeable. Same with Forgotten Lady. But, Negative Reaction? Why is that flat? The villain was not likeable, and he found murder easier than divorce. The only downside to that end was not being able to see Joanna Cameron’s legs, again.
Case of Immunity? How on earth was that flat? Villain was a deceiving jerk who killed 2 innocent persons. The Swaree Govt was left without a whatever position he had. The Mexican ppl were left w/o a hero when Columbo took down Ricardo Montalblan. Now, that’s a flat ending.
I thought for sure the #1 flat ending would be a given, Try and Catch Me. She brought justice to the real villain. Even Columbo didn’t want to arrest her. How’s that not #1?? Also, Conspirators. The villain was very likeable. He and Columby even formed a friendship. The victim was a very bad guy and unlikeable. That’s a flat ending, ppl. Dead Weight? Suzanne Pleashette was only being courted b/c the villain was manipulating her. Just one more bad decision in that wrecked life.
#1 Try & Catch Me
#3 Matter of Honor
#5 Make Me a Perfect Murder
#6 Old-Fashion Murder
#7 Forgotten Lady
Great list but “Columbo Goes to College” deserves the palm here:
On top of Justin and Cooper low interest characters that you listed above, what makes it the worse ending ever is the film editing error that brought 2 murder weapons (MW):
– one planted by the killer in Mrs Columbo/”Doyle’s green car.
– The second MW revealed under Justin’s car hood during the final gocha scene (oops, the super smart killer forgot to remove it)
So this episode ended by the discovery of a 2nd murder weapons officially identified by Columbo:
“…and you can see it [the cartridge] even has the funny little scratch marks on the side, same as the one we found on the street last Thursday ” .
We know that directors film more scenes to leave options during the film editing (in this case 2 possible ending), but the huge mistake to have mounted in the final cut 2 CONTRACDICTORY endings nominates it
for the palm of the worse ending!
My guess is they wanted to fill the 90 min, but got greedy with good scenes, hoping no one would notice the 2 weapons.
This was a rather insulting episode ending for Columbo’s intelligence!
The gun planted in Mrs. Columbo’s car was the murder weapon. The police put the other gun in Justin’s car solely for demonstration purposes — to show how the crime was committed. Nobody claims it’s the murder weapon.
As to the “scratch marks,” Columbo refers to them not as some sort of ballistics comparison. You’d need better forensic equipment for that. All he was showing was that the shell came from an automatic pistol; automatics leave ejector marks on the shell, made when the shell is ejected from the chamber. He was explaining why both the original shell and the demonstration shell would be found on the pavement. (Revolvers don’t eject spent shells.) And the ballistic report he receives in the garage makes it clear that the ejector marks left on the shell found on the night of the murder links it to the gun the boys planted in Mrs. Columbo’s car. No other gun.
There is no contradiction.
I really love this list except for one – replace Negative Reaction on the list with either Try and Catch Me or Any Old Port in a Storm. There’s really nothing sympathetic or sad about seeing Paul go down in flames lol But you really nailed the other ones!
Btw, Columbo is finally coming to bluray in the U.S. this summer!! Kino Lorber is releasing a ’70s box set and a ’90s box set.
Great list CP. Gena Rowlands on Playback always breaks my heart. Her mother dead, her philandering husband to be imprisoned. Impeccable acting by all.
Great list! I’d like to give an honorable mention to Lady In Waiting. Even when at the brink of killing Columbo, he was able to disarm her by giving her a simple compliment. She spent her whole life being denigrated and kept down and just being given a kind word she visibly melts. Columbo just steps outside as the camera pulls back over LA and the credits roll.
If anyone gave that girl a hug growing up, Brent would still be alive.
The most frequent common thread among the episodes listed is the presence in the final scene of an innocent person emotionally crushed by the unmasking of the murderer. Present when Columbo lowered the boom were the innocent spouses in Playback and Etude, Ned Diamond in Forgotten Lady, Helen Stewart in Dead Weight, Janie Brandt in Old Fashioned Murder, and Mrs. Peck in Double Shock. That covers six of the ten.
Three of the four remaining episodes involve among the starkest examples of Columbo resorting to improper police tactics: creating blatantly false evidence in Negative Reaction, making a false arrest in Mind Over Mayhem, and coercing a confession in A Case of Immunity. (But if that’s what triggers a downbeat ending, then where is Strange Bedfellows?)
That leaves only Columbo Goes to College — which I wouldn’t have included. Redman and Rowe are wholly unsympathetic in my book. Just like the real-life models after whom they were patterned. Their takedown should be celebrated. All the more so for their unrepentant arrogance at the end.
This is an interesting listicle and topic, as it gives some love/recognition to 70s episodes that are otherwise disparaged/ignored. Let’s cross-reference:
Double Shock (4) and Negative Reaction (6) are the only episodes here to sniff CP’s A-list. After that, it’s a precipitous fall to Etude (24), Playback (27) and Forgotten Lady (29) on the mid-to-tail end of the B-list. That leaves the final 4 “Downbeat” examples of the Classic Era branded with the dreaded C or D, including 3 that are widely regarded as the worst Columbo has to offer: Dead Weight, Old Fashioned Murder, and Mind Over Mayhem.
I’m not arguing for a direct correlation of Downbeat Ending and Episode Quality – there are obviously way too many other elements of Columbo eps to consider – but the muted emotions of the wrap-ups here perhaps have some degree of sway in how we rank our personal faves.
And of course, if feeling crappy after watching a Columbo episode meant it would be on this list, then Last Salute would be your landslide winner.
Really enjoyed your writing here.
A few thoughts:
Etude in Black ends very much on a downer. The wife is destroyed, and Alex’s half ass mea culpa only drives home how recklessly foolish he’s been.
The tone of Double Shock’s ending contrasts with the all the frivolity that comes before. Mrs. Peck may be hurting, but at least she and Columbo have buried the hatchet.
Similarly, in Dead Weight, I like to view Helen’s skepticism about Columbo’s family as a sign she’s learned something about life and herself from this experience. The Lt. previously tried to boost her self-esteem and perhaps the lesson has finally sunk in. Helen won’t stand for her mother’s berating any more, and won’t be locked down by a manipulative psychopathic man.
I always felt sad at the end of “Try & Catch Me”. It’s clear Abigail Mitchell is not a murderer… She was driven to crime by a great wrong.
It’s melancholy when she says, if Columbo had investigated her niece’s murder, all of this need not have happened.
Hi Anthony, have to disagree here. She clearly is a murderer. I mean, she murdered Edmund and in a gruwesome way too. Added to that it’s only her convicton that Edmund murdered his wife; I’m not at all convinced he did and still believe she died in a tragic accident. I don’t feel too sorry for Abigail Mitchell.
Let me go one step further: Abigail Mitchell barely took the crime she committed seriously. Her comments to Columbo as he pieced together the clues Edmund left behind in the safe — “Is it V for Veronica? How very cruel of her. … Dear Edmund in the safe, questioning the meaning of life. … You think he wanted to call attention to his new shoes?” — betray such a frivolous attitude toward this most gruesome of murders. Even if she genuinely believed Edmund deserved to be punished for causing Phyllis’ death, what she did was no joke. Yet she treats it as one. No sympathy here.
I see what you mean here, Rich. I always saw this mockery more as her final stand, a last ditch effort of playing tough, while she’s actually scared to death that Columbo is really onto something and that perhaps Edmund actually did manage to leave a clue.
I would have understood anger (having been removed from her cruise ship as it was about to set sail). I would have understood sarcasm (“It this the important help you needed?”). Both could have been an acceptable final stand. But making a joke of Edmund’s final moments went over the line. The “new shoes” quip, in particular, was hard to square with anything other than callousness. Certainly not the demeanor one should choose who’s considering a plea for “an exception in my case, an old woman, quite harmless all in all.”
I wonder how the scriptwriters inteded Abi’s character to be percieved by the viewers. On the surface she is clearly intended to be among the most sympathetic Columbo murderers, because she is driven to crime not by egoistic motives like money or self-preservation but by desire to avenge her beloved niece’s death. But then you have (alongside this flippant attitude to murder you notice) such details as her scheme to trick Edmund out of his rights to her blockbuster play so her motive doesn’t look so pure and most of all her final attempt to plea with Columbo for her freedom (” old woman, quite harmless all in all”). With a murderer motivated by revenge you would expect a reaction akin to Joe Devlin’s in “Conspirators”, i.e. something along the lines of “Ok, it didn’t work out exactly as I hoped, but I don’t really care since my mission is accomplished anyway” the same as Devlin doesn’t care what happens to him personally as long as he thinks that this guns shipment will safely arrive in Ireland. Instead we are given this frankly childish attempt to wiggle out of it at the last moment, confirming that she is not seeing the situation in all seriousness despite the incredibly sadistic murder she just commited, as if it was something not entirely real but a plot device from one of her novels.
That’s a very interesting question. According to David Koenig’s book, the “Try and Catch Me” script passed through a lot of hands: first, producer Richard Alan Simmons did a treatment; then Gene Thompson wrote a script that was rejected; next, Luther Davis (writing as Paul Tuckahoe) did a full rewrite of the Thompson script; and finally Simmons did a final, substantial rewrite. During this process, the character of Abigail Mitchell changed “from being a more intimidating character [targeted for Bette Davis to play] to a kindlier, less threatening character.” (In addition, Edmund’s culpability for Phyllis’ death was made deliberately more ambiguous.) Perhaps the various changes also allowed inconsistency to creep into the character.
Although I wouldn’t equate someone seeking personal vengeance with the far less self-centered motives of a Joe Devlin or a Lyle Rumford (two characters created by the same writer, Howard Berk), I do agree that neither Devlin nor Rumford ever would have begged Columbo to overlook his crime.
I think Columbophile missed one. In “It’s All In The Game” Columbo and Lauren Staton used their wily ways to further their own ends. Columbo was well aware that Nick was a “scum bucket.” When Lauren revealed the truth that Columbo didn’t see coming, there is a sense that this woman was protecting her daughter from a lover who threatened to kill the daughter but, as Lauren said, she killed him first. Such a sad ending where Columbo has no words as she is taken away. But “Forgotten Lady” definitely has the most melancholy ending of all.
All in the Game doesn’t ultimately leave me feeling flat because the actual ending is more lighthearted with Columbo telling Barney he’s off to take Mrs C on their regular Thursday night out bowling. The ones I included in the list are those that end on a low note as the credits come in. All in the Game could have done so, but they chose to play it differently.
I have a different take on All in the Game. I’ve always found Lauren Staton to be the most sympathetic murderer in the series, by far. More so than Grace Wheeler whose motive was purely selfish and she knew exactly what she was doing and why when she killed her husband. Lauren was simply protecting her daughter. The climax of that episode with Lauren being forced to confess her crime, motive, reveal their relationship, then being taken away while her daughter is pretty much forced to flee to Europe and Columbo revealing in the end that he was simply playing along with Lauren and did not have genuine affection for her left me feeling low.
After Lauren told Columbo that Nick “said he’d kill [Lisa] if she told me. Well, she told me, but we killed him first” — I wish Columbo had replied: “You should have let us to protect you first.” This point should have been made before police carted Lauren off for criminally taking the law into her own hands. Have sympathy for Lauren and her daughter’s plight, but balance that sympathy against the fact that the time they took planning this crime would have been better spent working with police to ensure Nick’s imprisonment for intentionally assaulting Lisa with a deadly weapon (among other crimes). He could have been arrested immediately, denied bail because he threatened to kill the victim if she reported his crime, and been punished appropriately. Lauren had other options.
My candidate for most downbeat ending not on this list is A Matter of Honor. Montoya’s daughter standing by and crying out “Papa!” Everybody else staring at Montoya and realizing what a monstrous act he committed, with basically no motive at all. Their father figure has sunk into insanity. I think he won’t stand trial due to the publicity; he will agree to go to a mental institution, and die there.
To be fair though, Galesko got paroled and just got revealed on The Masked Singer – so it all worked out
Thank you for this article. It really adds depth to my appreciation of these episodes, particularly Negative Reaction. Negative Reaction has long been my favorite Columbo, in large part due to the comic vignettes, which show Columbo’s character at its best (dealing sympathetically with down-and-outers and working folk). But the ending adds gravitas. I actually never thought about Columbo’s inner conflict between solving the crime and having to deceive the perpetrator. It’s another interesting aspect of the show that supports my appreciation of the character and the writing. I don’t find any fictional detective as complex and satisfying as Columbo.
Excellent as always! I always interpreted the slumped shoulders in “Negative Reaction” to complete exhaustion from the last scene. He was walking a tightrope, a high-wire act trying to get Gelesko to incriminate himself. He felt it was all riding on everything working out just right and not losing his nerve when dealing with a very intelligent foe.
I was a little surprised that “Any Port in a Storm” didn’t get a nod. As wrong as what he did was, it was a bit melancholy for Columbo to mail someone for whom he had genuine affection.
I think the ending to Any Old Port, while bittersweet, features a sufficient amount of heart-warming exchanges between the two men to raise it above the downbeat.
CP, I’m very surprised not to see your favorite Columbo — “The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case” — on this list; indeed, very high on this list. It checks all the boxes. Oliver Brandt is a murderer who killed to cover up financial crimes born less of personal greed than the perceived need to satisfy his wife’s outsized material desires (“We’ll buy some clothes!”). He’s a far more loyal husband than Ray Flemming or Alex Benedict or Nelson Hayward or Hayden Danziger (“Well, you are the mother of my predicament.”). He’s a murderer with a sympathetic life story whom Columbo respects (at least somewhat). As for Columbo crossing the line, here Columbo steals Brandt’s umbrella, admits he’s “not allowed to get evidence that way, but as long as I had it,” has the police lab analyze the umbrella, and uses the information against his suspect. And it all culminates in that final melancholy phone conversation between Brandt and his wife: “Alas, my dear, I shall not be needing you — any more.”
Very downbeat. You’re left feeling: what a waste.
Had it all ended with Brandt telling his wife he’d not be needing her any more, and hanging up the phone as Columbo looked on with a sad expression it’d definitely be in the list. The final exchange of the puzzle and Columbo stating that he could never consider changing his line of work really lifts the mood for me.
When life gets you down, say: “Asphalt.”
Great list! Forgotten Lady and Negative Reaction are two of the greatest episodes. The ending of Forgotten Lady is truly tragic. Columbo’s brilliant ruse at the close of Double Negative doesn’t undo the squalor of the double murders: the wife and the poor deceived convict, as Columbo’s demeanor shows.
I disagree with forgotten lady. She had a brain aneurysm. That does not effect your memory. She was egotistical and murdered her husband to get her own way. She planned the whole thing down to the tiniest detail. The only disappointing thing about the ending was he let her take a walk.
Absolutely agree, unsympathetic as it gets, same for abigail; also agree a few comments above that laurel staton must be the most sympathetic murderer, as the victim threatened her daughter to kill her.
I think it’s a good list.
Interesting article! Thank you.
My joy watching Columbo comes from the familiarity of it. That is, I have watched most episodes so many times that I know and enjoy my favorite moments over and over. Columbo is just Columbo – I don’t analyze his every motive. Playback is my favorite episode and Forgotten Lady and Etude in Black are both high on my list. Columbo’s emotional response at the end doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of these episodes at all.
Great list. I would flip Forgotten Lady and Negative Reaction, however. The ending to the former episode is just so poignant and really sticks with you for a while.
I think it mostly the life sized photo that upsets our detective. She’s terrified and is waiting to be shot. This is a case of Columbo being overwhelmed by compassion for the victim and therefore he is totally capable of overlooking dubious tactics. Plus he clearly dislikes Paul Galesko, who is a serial killer in cold blood.
I agree. The photo of someone facing imminent death garnered Columbo’s reaction. Her husband’s cold calculations wouldn’t.
Well, galesko’s victim was a true harpy, it’s not like I’m defending murder, but I don’t see why columbo would be compassionate for someone like her.
Obviously galesko also killed Alvin Dreschler, and that was a cold blooded murder on someone innocent, I think it was done to make galesko less sympathetic than it’d have been with only the first murder.
Yes, thank you for this interesting article! These were the episodes that left me feeling a bit ‘bummed’ and I never fully understood why until you gathered them all together. Again, thank you.
Great article! Lots to think about in this article.
Have a good day!
The article’s title is a tad misleading without close reading of the piece and consideration of CP’s choices for the Top 10. Rather than Most Downbeat, it seems to me, more accurately, as being a list of the episodes where Columbo himself felt the worst about it when the credits rolled, not the viewer (hard to fit that into a snappy headline though). Otherwise, the list would no doubt align very closely with the Most Sympathetic Killers, and would surely feature Try and Catch Me, Any Old Port, etc. Although Columbo himself might seem low-spirited after his Negative Reaction trickery, we sure don’t – Galesko was a snake.
I read Columbo’s end-reaction in Goes to College totally different from CP. It seems to me to be more of a head shake that says, “You dumbass entitled Gen X twerps thought you could get away with it.” I’d agree with Jerry & George below who pegged “It’s All in the Game” as the better episode for 90s representation on this list.
Interesting article, I do agree with David and George S also but only 10 can be chosen. It’s All In The Game seems like one of the few episode where Columbo did not enjoy arresting the murderer.
Yet it’s also one of the few episodes where he handcuffs the murderer! I find that very strange, as I find her the one with the “nicest” motive out of all.
From the Episodes I‘ve seen (and there are some missing) i think of „By Dawns early Light“ as a sad downbeat ending, i can understand his motive much better then this of guys like in Playback or Etude in Black, guys that find their decency and style when they get caught…it’s sad for their partners but they are killers with no real motive, just greed. So there is no downbeat for me. Double Reaction is also not an ending i see that way, Columbo played something and it worked, i‘ve watched it with this interpretation in mind but don‘t see it. It’s never nice to watch a person realizing the Game is over unless you are into that, Columbo is not and thats how he is behaving. To me nothing else.
I also think “By Dawns early Light“ fits here. Except for killing that guy, McGoohan’s character is an honorable man trying to maintain discipline and order in a world that is changing, and where his ideas and views are becoming old-fashioned. The ending seems to suggest that Columbo recognizes this as he allows McGoohan one last opportunity to speak with the cadets.
A very good list sir!
But just one more thing….I had hoped to see “It’s All In The Game” on your list. I think it’s one of the most melancholy endings in the series. Peter Falk did a great job in writing this episode. It’s got emotion. It’s got the Lieutenant pulling some of his trickery too. It’s even got the good Lieutenant letting an accomplice to murder go free.
With regard to the LT’s trickery….He obviously knew there was a close relationship of some kind between Lauren Staton and the young Lisa for him to believe that Lauren would confess to the murder when she saw the police begin to charge Lisa with the murder. But when Lauren confesses to him in the small side room, he asks her (about Lisa) “who is this woman?” When Lauren says “she’s my daughter” Columbo is so floored he needs to collapse into a chair and his expression says that he didn’t see THAT coming. Now, did Columbo think the two were lovers as most of us viewers were wondering at that point?
A very inspired list I must say, I agree with 9 out of 10 of your picks.
When it comes to the ending of College I can only feel ever so satisfied when Columbo nails those two arrogant students and I feel Columbo’s head shake has more to do with Justin’s response to his arrest than anything else.
I’d probably have replaced this one with the ending of Make me a perfect Murder, since it is so obvious that Kay in the end killed her former lover for nothing at all. There’s not the satisfaction of revenge or the fulfilling of a fantasy, like in Sex and the martued detective, and it turned out to do her career no good after all. She has failed, on all accounts, and despite all this she’s holding her head up high. But had she contemplated her actions and the possible consequenses some more, e.g. had she been as levelheaded as she always professed to be, she would have swallowed her pride and fought back by doing the best she could at her job – instead of murdering her lover. Now all has turned to shreds and it’s a sad sight.
To be honest though, that mark seemed like a real snake, flanagan said it’d have been fine for him if kate went to new york with mark, but that it was up to mark to decide, and he decided to deny her the opportunity and dumped her as well, looks like he used her, don’t feel sorry for him at all, one of the most despicable victims imo.
Obviously kate could’ve done it differently too, example could’ve not demanded to get mark’s office that soon after he died, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for flanagan and he decided to fire her, otherwise she’d have been fine, until columbo came to arrest her ofc!