For the first time in a while the writers of this series play to its strengths, with Kate involved in a murder case simply because she is a journalist. She doesn’t need to have any pre-involvement with either the murderer or the victim, which has been the pattern of most episodes this season. Instead, she’s just there because it’s her job. That allows the murder to take place and Kate to get involved all within the space of about a minute, which utilises the relatively short running time much better, allowing a more intricate story to be told, with more suspects.
The other problem that is solved here is the difficulty in constructing a functional whodunit in a 45 minute episode. Whereas some other episodes have become convoluted and jumped around all over the place in an attempt to provide some red herrings, here the focus is tightly on one group of people: the support group the victim was attending. Kate also investigates her husband and speaks to his secretary, but that’s it, so we have a small but diverse bunch of individuals, and it’s easy to understand their connections to the victim and the potential motives that come to light.
At first the support group, run by slightly dodgy psychologist Dr Philip Bradlee (Rene Auberjonois), seems like a bit of a joke: “people blabbing their strange personal problems to other people with strange personal problems.” Josh, who is always a great character for a bit of flippant comedy, doesn’t have much time for that kind of thing. He deals with his own psychological issues by getting “testy”, or walking away from them.
“I know more about my inner self than I care to.”
Bradlee seems to have a hippyish approach to his job, letting it “all hang out”. That seems to consist of allowing his group to all be very unkind to each other, and when Kate joins she is immediately faced with a barrage of questions and criticisms from the others, who dismiss her divorcee issues as not being significant enough for a group like theirs. It’s all a bit silly and unpleasant, and it’s hard to imagine any mental health group being so catty and dysfunctional, but then the writers surprise us by showing that Bradlee was actually supporting some of the group members through a very difficult issue, and he turns out to be dedicated to his job and actually quite good at it (at least on a more individual basis), despite his fraudulent credentials. The writers tackle the issue of secret lesbianism in a way that is perhaps surprisingly frank and non-judgmental for a 70s US show. I’m not sure how unusual this would have been as a storyline at the time, but the matter-of-fact and non-sensationalist approach to the subject matter certainly feels ahead of its time.
As always, when this show needs to provide us with moments of fear and excitement it does that very well. There is a car chase that is very scary and well staged; at one point the danger appears to arrive at Kate’s house, just as her daughter is getting home, and we get another of those great gotcha moments at the end where Kate places herself in considerable danger to catch the killer. Those episode climaxes have made much more sense this season, because we know Kate is working with a good friend in the police force and he’s unlikely to be far away, but the element of personal risk is still ever present, in a way that has marked the series out very effectively from its original parent show. With just one episode to go, and the writers only now seeming to discover the full potential of the idea with which they were working, this is starting to feel like a huge missed opportunity. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… Mrs Columbo: Love, on Instant Replay
When I look back on how homosexuality and lesbianism was realistically and non-judgmentally dramatized in old shows and films, as rare as it might have seemed, it gives me great respect for how people in TV and cinema at that time could achieve that. In this era, certainly thanks to Dr. Who’s most groundbreaking allowances starting with Jack Harkness, many old TV episodes like Feelings Can Be Murder can be viewed even more healthily. Thank you, RP, for your review. 🏳️🌈
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