If we were unsure of Kate’s marital status, she makes it clear in this episode. She is Kate Columbo no more: “I went to court and got my maiden name back.” Oddly, Mike expresses surprise at hearing Kate introduce herself as Kate Callahan, although she has done so twice before, albeit overdubbed on the most recent occasion, which supports my theory that these episodes were broadcast out of order, with the decision to change Kate’s surname taken after at least one of the episodes had already been filmed. I also still stand by my opinion that a strong motivation for this decision had to be the way the writers can now tease a romance between Kate and Mike, an added element to the show that was absent from the first season. They are obviously very fond of each other, and that perhaps leads to Kate being granted access to murder cases in a way that must surely go beyond the usual interactions between police officer and journalist.
Although Mike is her friend, Kate’s status as an amateur detective is clearly unofficial beyond her journalism, and the wider world of law enforcement is not her friend. This week she is caught out and betrayed in a horrible manner, when Mike’s boss demands she reveal her source of information in a murder case, involving an illegal gambling operation. When she refuses, because her source confided in her strictly off the record and fears for her life, Kate is held “in contempt of court” and threatened with prison if she doesn’t betray her source. Surely this can’t really be the way the legal system works in the US? The suggestion seems to be that Kate can be prosecuted in this way simply because there is a judge in the room, and they kind of spring on her some nonsense about being a witness in a trial she didn’t know was taking place and therefore being in contempt for refusing to answer a question. This all happens in an office, not a courtroom. It’s really odd.
Kate gets a taste of prison, placed behind bars for one night with a murderer who intends to kill two more people as soon as she gets out, and then is given three days to basically solve the case for the police if she stands her ground about protecting her source, or she’s going back inside and is going to stay there. I can’t believe this is anywhere remotely close to a true representation of the US legal system. It’s sick. The police also come across as really stupid, because they only need to covertly follow Kate to find out her source for themselves, something that basically happens at the end of the episode anyway, by which time her life has been placed in serious jeopardy. Threatening her with jail is a pointless exercise, but this speaks of a wider problem with Mrs Columbo; when a series revolves around a journalist solving murder cases, this can only work if the police fail to do so themselves. The problem is exacerbated by the need to fit the story into just 45 minutes, which has so far made the solutions to any mysteries relatively easy to figure out, making the police look even more stupid. Make up your own minds as to how accurate or otherwise that might be.
Although we have moved very far from the usual plot beats of a Columbo episode during the second season, one element remains: Kate is very often coming up against wealthy and powerful enemies. Once again, she faces off against underworld criminals and the corrupt rich people who aid and abet their shady activities in order to get richer. Figuring out what is going on might be relatively simple, but bringing the crooks to justice is certainly not. At one point Kate and Mike wait outside a mansion house where Kate has just seen a sophisticated casino set-up being enjoyed by the rich, entirely illegally. By the time the search warrant arrives two hours later, somehow all traces of the gambling operation have been removed. These are resourceful and clever enemies for Kate. In the end, she doesn’t win through by being more clever than them, but by being lucky, which is a bit frustrating in story terms. In fact, she proves herself to be repeatedly less clever than her enemies, finally falling for a very obvious ruse to lead them to the woman who has been betraying them. Luckily for Kate she has Mike to keep an eye on her, or that would have been her final mistake. But maybe it’s not a bad thing to have a fallible lead character in a show like this, especially when she has such a useful friend in the police as Mike. In the first season Kate was mostly going it alone, but in these second season episodes she is part of a team, and an entertaining one at that.
I know these stories are a bit clunky, but I don’t mind, and that’s mainly because Mike and Kate are just so watchable. In a scene early in the episode, Kate notices some glasses that have been washed by hand, although the dishwasher is still warm. Mike suggests the burglars might have washed the glasses, to which Kate replies: “That’s very neat. I wonder if they do windows.”
What can I say? I like these two, and I like this show. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… Mrs Columbo: The Valley Strangler
Any law supposed to protect innocent people suddenly trying to force a good person to endanger a human life is always outrageous. It’s the conditionings on society that such inhuman sacrifices are necessary for the sake of the greater good that needs to be overcome. Even the Star Trek universe’s sense of morality often had this problem. So it’s good for Kate to be at her bravest and especially as a woman, knowing from Law & Order and movies like Dolores Claiborne, The Contender and North Country how the legal treatment of women can be most heartless. So thank you, RP, for reviewing a very important Mrs. Columbo episode.
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