Kate’s final case is an unusual one. The victim, Laura White, had been asking for trouble with her twisted behaviour, running a dating agency and using that as an opportunity to threaten her clients and film her exploits. In the case of main suspect Zadek Malesko, Laura surmises that he is trying to find a wife so he can remain in the country, and warns him that she is going to report him to immigration services. He’s not too pleased about that.
That doesn’t automatically make him a murderer, though. He probably wouldn’t be sat there in the room while the police investigate the murder scene for a start, so immediately something doesn’t add up to Kate. Zadek has a past that makes him an easy target for the police to pin the crime on him, a former member of an underground movement in Czechoslovakia, presumably in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of 1968. But as he points out, he doesn’t even own a gun, because he doesn’t need one in the USA (if only more people shared that attitude). It’s hard to see him being bullied by the police, and there’s a whiff of casual racism about it all.
Talking of the police, the bully in question is Captain Simon Randall. Kate’s friend Mike remains very much a heroic figure, as he has always been during this season. Randall’s appearance in this episode as a new character makes it pretty easy to figure out what’s going on here, especially when evidence that has clearly been planted to frame Zadek starts appearing.
This is not a particularly strong story to conclude the whole series, which is a shame, but it does play to the show’s key strengths. For one last time, Kate is endangered in the course of her investigations, almost becoming the victim of a drive-by shooting. The danger to Kate is also nicely integrated into the plot, because it provides her with an important clue: somebody is obviously trying to make it look like Zadek has tried to kill Kate, but a “hotshot professional killer” would obviously not miss with five shots, nor would he drop his gun out of the window before he drives away.
Like many plot points, this is all a little bit clumsy and far easier for Kate to figure out than the average Columbo case, but that has been a common problem for the show, due largely to the restraints of its 45 minute episode format. It’s very difficult to construct an intricate story that holds together well over such a short period of time, and few episodes have pulled that off successfully. However, this has been a show that deserves a better reputation, and would have been more worthy of repeat commissioning than many a long-running crime drama series. I stand by my original assessment that Mrs Columbo’s negative reception has always been largely due to Columbo fans not liking the idea at all, and nothing the writers could have done would ever have overcome the inherent hostility generated by the premise. It’s not a show that stands up in comparison to the best Columbo episodes, but then again it’s not a show that often tried to emulate the parent show at all. You could argue that 3 or 4 episodes during the first season were playing with some of the usual plot beats of a Columbo episode, but the pilot episode was a straight-up thriller (and a very effective one), and the entire second season was entirely unrelated to Columbo in anything but name (and then only for syndication and overseas sales). This swiftly became a show that was doing the opposite to Columbo: traditionally constructed murder mysteries, with a thriller element. Columbo wasn’t about challenging the viewers to crack the case. Columbo wasn’t about endangering a vulnerable hero. The spin-off show was built on those very different principles, and most importantly it showcased a brave and resourceful female main character. During the second season, Kate was a divorcee trying to keep herself and her daughter safe, while refusing to shy away from placing herself in danger in the name of discovering the truth. In the first season she might just as well have been a single mother, because her husband was entirely absent, so she was basically in the same position from the start. The series showed us how strong she could become, and what a dogged and courageous pursuer of the truth, with a little bit of help from her friends. So never mind some of the more sneering, purist Columbo fans, many of whom baulk at the idea of this show’s very existence without even watching it. Mrs Columbo wasn’t exactly groundbreaking, and perhaps isn’t even worthy of the Columbo name it so quickly sought to abandon, but it’s a reasonably entertaining crime drama that wasn’t afraid to tackle some thorny topics such as women falling into prostitution, or a man whose mental health was damaged irreparably due to an abusive childhood. Take it or leave it, but don’t tell me this show diminishes the legacy of Columbo. RP
PS. If you want to just try this series rather than watching it all, at least take a look at the pilot Word Games, which is the episode that references Columbo the most and is also a pretty decent thriller. To get a flavour of the show trying to follow the usual plot beats of a Columbo episode during the first season, try Murder is a Parlor Game, starring the ever-reliable Donald Pleasence. For a taste of the second season and what the show eventually became, I highly recommend The Valley Strangler. Star Trek fans who are drawn to this show because of Kate Mulgrew will definitely want to watch that episode, as it features an excellent performance from Andrew Robinson, and will probably also want to take a look at Rene Auberjonois’ appearance in Feelings Can be Murder. Where do we go from here? You’ve probably guessed. The 80s/90s revival of Columbo awaits…
Read next in the Junkyard… Columbo Goes to the Guillotine
Thank you, RP, for all your Mrs. Columbo reviews. I certainly agree that this series doesn’t in any way diminish the main Columbo series. But I was shocked to read that Peter Falk disapproved of Mrs. Columbo, calling it a disgracefully bad idea. Strangely I seem to remember Kate, like Falk, in the 90s also returning as Mrs. Columbo for a TV movie special, and yet I can’t find it anywhere on IMDb or Wikipedia. I’m glad that Kate had her shot at this character and that she’s moved onto a very good career, including reprising Kathryn Janeway for Star Trek: Prodigy.
LikeLiked by 2 people
There was no tv movie special of Mrs Columbo as far as I’m aware.
LikeLiked by 1 person