First broadcast: 1990
“This episode is so good, it was tempting to go back and change all the scores for the previous episodes - either that or make a special '6 Cigar' rating“
The episode starts at a funeral, where the camera shows an upset Lieutenant. For the funeral is for his wife.
And then there's a voiceover. A woman proclaims to herself that she killed the venerable Mrs C and that Columbo himself will be next.
Cue the wibbly wobbly skip back in time to a few weeks before...
Vivian Dimitri is an estate agent and has just sold a house, and in celebration, arranges to meet her boss Charlie in the early evening to discuss the sale. She then phones Leland St John and arranges to meet him at 8:30.
Her third phone call is then made to the police where she asks for Columbo. It transpires he's been on holiday and isn't in the office to take the call.
Picking up a gun she heads to the office to meet Charlie and she proclaims she knows it was him who shopped her husband to the police years ago for stealing money from his clients. Naturally Charlie gets annoyed at this (albeit true accusation) and probably gets a bit more annoyed after Vivian shoots him and takes his wallet before going off to meet Leland St John at her favourite restaurant.
Over their meal she ducks out to "powder her nose" and runs down the fire escape to the a nearby cash machine and uses Charlie's cash card to withdraw some money which she places in his wallet.
After heading to a motel for certain obvious reasons, she leaves at 2am and heads back to the office where she returns the wallet to Charlie's pocket and drives off throwing the gun out of her car window as she heads home.
The next morning Columbo is on the scene and is investigating finding the withdrawn cash and a bookmarkers slip, and when Vivian arrives she proclaims he was most certainly alive when she left, and that when she left the door was unlocked, before proclaiming she went home by herself and stayed in.
Later at her house, Vivian gives a more extended statement that then contradicts the statements of her neighbours, before admitting she was having a liaison with a married man. Over at the golf course, St John reluctantly confirms the story.
After a quick chilli based interlude the gun is found at Falcon Ridge, a housing estate where several houseowners are suing Charlie, naturally casting suspicion on someone there as being the murderer.
Tracking down the bookmarker to a seedy hotel lobby, Columbo learns that Charlie had won a significant bet on a basketball match thus confusing Columbo as to why he needed to withdraw cash on the same evening. But then he finds out that the ATM was near the restaurant Vivian was dining in. It's as if Vivian wants him to know she did it...
Naturally Columbo has been hanging round Vivian a lot, and discussing his wife with her a lot too. During one conversation, he mentions the Falcon Ridge owners as most likely murderers and mentions that Mrs Columbo likes marmalade when he's offered some breakfast.
Of course little evidence can be found at Falcon Ridge because there isn't any, but whilst he's conducting a fake investigation there, Vivian drives up with some marmalade for Mrs Columbo, before inviting them both round for dinner on Saturday night.
During the investigations Columbo's discovered that Vivian had a psychiatrist and he flies out to meet him. Whilst the good doctor won't talk about her case, Columbo does get some free analysis over a quick bite to eat. That it may be that Mrs Columbo becomes the next target - Columbo had put Vivian's husband away (and who later committed suicide) and that there may be an attitude of "you robbed me of my husband, I'll rob you of your wife". And that someone in that situation would probably go out of their way to make sure he knew who had done it.
Back at Vivian's home, discussing his wife a bit more, a sergeant turns up at the house and proclaims Mrs Columbo is ill in hospital.
Before we know it we're at the funeral watching a very emotional Lieutenant. After the funeral he avoids the wake, inviting Vivian to his house to discuss the emotions one widower to a widow, before finding out the police want to delay the burial because it's now believed to be murder.
At his house they chat and he asks if she's hungry - that he hasn't eaten since the night before. He cracks some eggs and gets some toast, before getting the marmalade out. Some has already gone - his wife must have eaten some. He spreads it on the toast and offers he some before biting in.
He begins to feel warm. He receives a phone call telling him his wife was poisoned.
As he begins to feel increasingly unwell she tells him there was poison in the marmalade and she wanted retribution. She tells him how she killed Charlie, complete with all the details.
She tells him he's dying. Here alone in his kitchen.
Ah, but this is not his kitchen. This is not his house. Columbo stops dying. The sergeant comes in with a tape deck. Mrs Columbo is most certainly not dead. The marmalade had been swapped and tested.
As she's taken away, he phones his wife who is bed with a mild dose of the flue. He tells her he loves her very much.
Cleverness of the way Columbo catches out the murderer
There's a lot going on in this episode, but spotting who the murderer is is obviously not particularly hard. Vivian wants him to know it was her - it's just she wants him to die before anyone else knows.
And likewise Columbo doesn't really want her to know that he's on to her. He wants to see how far down the path she will go.
So Columbo spends most of his time building up an ornate trap for Vivian - lulling her in to a huge false sense of security before pulling the rabbit out of the hat at the end, using fake arguments and phoney arrests to get her where he wants to be. Hey, he even fakes a funeral to get her. That takes one rather cunning mind...
Convolutedness of the murder
As murders go it was all rather simple to commit, however undoubtedly a small part of a hugely complicated picture. Charlie's murder is just a simple step on a journey whose eventual end is the death of the leading detective, and all hopefully untraceable.
Hey, when poisoned marmalade comes in to play, you know you've got a big one...
How annoyed does the murderer get with Columbo?
No annoyance at all - Vivian never wants to annoy Columbo. Well except when she tells him he'll be dead soon. What she wants is to get close to him to put her plan in to action. And annoyance would not help with that.
It's a rather unusual case in that respect however the goal is ultimately the same.
The smug-richness factor
None at all here, although she naturally has some money. But the desire for murder comes about from revenge and nothing more and there's no richness and no smugness.
Quality of sub-plot
Throughout the episode we keep skipping forward to Mrs Columbo's funeral, so the question must be whether her death is a sub-plot or the main plot. It could be either.
We'll assume it was subplot mainly because if it wasn't, we'd have nothing to talk about here and we wouldn't like that at all.
Naturally the potential death of Mrs C is a huge thing to the viewer, especially when coming to this story for the first time. It's a huge shock moment - just how could they have killed her off? Indeed, it's not until right at the end that we are completely sure she's not dead. But thank goodness she is.
Mentions of Mrs Columbo
If we had a "Mentions of Mrs Columbo meter" consisting of a pointer waving around a dial, with labels of "none", "some" and "lots", well this episode would be off the dial, so much so that the meter would probably be a smoking pile of plastic by the time the end credits have come on.
Can there be an another episode where Mrs Columbo gets this much attention? Well if there is, we can't think of it.
We even get to see a photograph of her which is another of those "bloomin' heck" moments to go along with believing she's dead. Although rest assured, just as she's not actually dead, it's also not a photograph of her. It's actually of her sister...
What new-fangled thing does Columbo learn about this episode?
Marmalade? Well okay we're clutching at straws. There isn't really time for anything in amidst this frantic and busy episode.
Was anyone given sedatives?
No, but perhaps if Vivian had kept taking the pills her doctor had assigned to her, she might not have tried to kill anyone...
But then if that had happened, it would have been a very dull episode...
Deviations from the norm and inconsistencies with other Columbo episodes
This episode does have a rather abnormal format. Mainly as we see Columbo right at the beginning, and then there's there constant skipping back and forward in time between the funeral and the murder as various characters narrate the events which occur.
It's a strange episode in that respect however comes together very well.
Appearances by the Regular Cast
There's no one I'm afraid. Not even Bruce Kirby as the venerable Sergeant Kramer who would seem a natural foil to Columbo in this episode.
This episode is so good, it was tempting to go back and change all the scores for the previous episodes - either that or make a special "6 Cigar" rating.
Everything comes together extremely well, but nothing can ever beat the first time viewing of this episode where you genuinely believe that Mrs Columbo is actually dead.
If there's one downside it's that the funeral voiceovers - supposedly the characters talking to themselves - don't have particularly realistic dialogue. They're clearly talking to the viewer, not to themselves. But that's a minor thing - there's only a handful of them and doesn't detract from what is truly a marvellous episode of Columbo.