September 19, 2016

Mondays with Columbo: A DEADLY STATE OF MIND

Psychology was big in the 1970s....

...and when I say "psychology", I mean more self-help. There was a mix of both self-actualization/self-awareness with a slight sense of narcissism. Portrayals of mental health professionals tended to fall into two categories.

Bob Newhart played one type: George Hamilton played the other in this episode of Columbo.

In fact, I'll wager that the psychiatrist-who-has-an-inappropriate-relationship-with-their-client trope has become very overused, much like the "criminal-confesses-to-a-priest-knowing-the-priest-won't-talk" and the "Japanese-businesses-as-Yellow-Peril-type-menace-in-the-1980s" themes. However, this Columbo episode.

Dr. Marcus Collier (George Hamilton), a psychiatrist who specializes in hypnosis, is confronted by both her patient....and her husband. After a heated argument, there is a brief tussle, and Dr. Collier strikes the husband with a fireplace poker, killing him instantly. As a potential cover story, Dr. Collier and his patient/mistress make up a story about a break-in...and of course, Lt. Columbo comes along and starts working his magic.

In fact, one of the strengths of the episode is that Lt. Columbo is pursuing the "wrong" lead, focusing on Nadia (the patient/mistress) rather than Dr. Collier. As the investigation proceeds, Dr. Collier decides that it's time for his mistress to go...and so he hypnotizes her into committing suicide. And this twist makes A Deadly State of Mind a great Columbo episode.

Granted, I wasn't too impressed with the final gotcha (which seems...well, you should watch for yourself; it's hard to describe in text), but you're not watching this for the final clue. This is a Columbo episode that should be watched for George Hamilton's pitch-perfect performance.

That's right - I'm actually complimenting George Hamilton. It's the right amount of smug arrogance, or casual condescension, that makes this particular Columbo sparkle. Even though the final gotcha is a bit poor, there's something about it - in light of Hamilton's performance - that gives it a slightly heavier emotional impact that it may seem to warrant.

If it sounds like damning with faint praise, it isn't - A Deadly State of Mind may not be classic Columbo, but it's one that comes very close.

(Want another opinion? Check out The Columbo Podcast's perspective on A Deadly State of Mind)

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