It’s more than fair to say that Kate Mulgrew is best known for appearing as Captain Katherine Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager. But, well before that, in 1979, she got the lead in a very strange spin-off series called Mrs. Columbo.
There’s a lot to explain about all of this, which is amusing because the series only ran for thirteen episodes. It was an eventful misfire.
It started with the end of the first run of the regular Columbo series. NBC decided that they wanted to do a weekly hour long spin-off revolving around Lt. Columbo’s previously unseen wife being an amateur sleuth. (Why she would try to solve a murder on her own when she was married to the greatest homicide detective in history is the real mystery.) The creators of Columbo, Richard Levinson and William Link, said that it was a horrible idea for a show and they didn’t want to do it.
So, NBC did it without them.
Peter Falk also didn’t like the idea. NBC figured it would be just as easy to never show Columbo on Mrs. Columbo as it had been to not show Mrs. Columbo on Columbo.
And, since the audience had never met the missus, NBC could make her into anything they wanted. That seemed like the upshot of all of this on the NBC side. Except that they weren’t really paying attention, because if you watch even just a handful of episodes of Columbo, you get a pretty clear picture of what his wife is like:
Short, a little on the chubby side, Italian, beautiful dark hair, the same age as Columbo, buxom, prone to community activities, gossipy in a nice way, good at puzzles and games. There’s a clear idea of the character, even if there isn’t a physical presence in the series.
Circa 1979 Kate Mulgrew was young, svelte, and redheaded. You can see we’re already moving in some head-scratching directions with all of this.
They also chose to give the Columbos a young daughter who, despite the many stories of the many nephews and nieces, Columbo had never mentioned.
In all honesty, the show in and of itself is okay. Kate Mulgrew is an extremely likeable detective, the kid is cute, the stories are paint-by-numbers but not offensively bad, and the whole thing could’ve worked just fine if they’d left the Columbo connection out of it.
During production, they realized that and changed the title three times. First to Kate Columbo, then to Kate the Detective, and finally Kate Loves a Mystery. (I like Kate Loves a Mystery of the available titles, because it makes me think of a girl power version of Carlton E. Morse’s I Love a Mystery and I Love Adventure radio series.) That’s a lot of retooling, and when you throw in its erratic scheduling, it’s little wonder it never took off.
The episode we’re watching today comes from the original six episode package used to gauge interest in the series. It’s about the catering business at the start of the ‘80s boom, and major plot points include a fur coat and a golden car! So even if it’s terrible, it’s going to be amazing.
For the Mrs. Columbo incarnation of the series, the title sequence has clues to a dramatic murder lying around, including a rumpled body, a fire poker, and a phone off the hook. Kate enters the room and starts tidying it up, and we see that the rumpled body is really just a pile of laundry, the fire poker just fell out of its holder, and the phone is off the hook because Dog – the mournful-eyed, rebellious basset hound from the original Columbo – got all tangled up in the cord. (Oh, Dog. What are you even doing on this show?)
The story itself starts with a very refined, wealthy-looking woman sitting in her car at a train crossing. It’s the middle of the night, and the red lights cast an ominous glow on her face and the hood of the car. She’s timing the train, with jittery determination and a dark glitter in her eyes.
She picks up her car phone, a device roughly the size of one of those discounts blocks of cheese that probably aren’t made of cheese, and she dials a number she knows well. Very well.
The man who answers is sitting in his living room, smoking a cigar, listening to terrible smooth jazz, and he has a paramour stretched out on the couch with him. We don’t see her face, only her strappy high heels resting in his lap.
“I love you, Richard,” the woman at the train crossing says into the phone.
The caller is Sybil, his soon-to-be ex-wife. She wants him back, even though he doesn’t want to come back, and she tells him she hasn’t even begun her efforts to patch up their marriage. He’ll be hers again, just wait and see.
Oh! Maybe this won’t have anything to do with murdering somebody with a train, and she’ll try to win him back by working hard on their relationship and making sure his voice is heard! That would be sensible!
The next morning, we get our first glimpse of Kate herself as she tours the kitchens of a high-end catering company.
Are you at all hungry right now? Because you might want some snacks and a bottle of water for the rest of this recap, especially if you like tacky food as much as I do.
When Kate isn’t keeping house or solving mysteries, she’s writing human interest stories for the local penny saver. The woman giving her the tour is Patty, Kate’s old friend, and one of the founders of the company. Patty is wearing a cropped red jacket with shoulder pads you could land a plane on, because that was high fashion for business women of the time.
“I want you to consider salmon mousse and aspic. Contemplate asparagus with tarragon and mushrooms stuffed with escargot,” Patty rattles off, sounding like a commercial. “Think about shrimp puffs!”
Men in jumpsuits wheel enormous racks of spinach quiche behind the two women, as Kate eyeballs the shrimp puffs hungrily.
The kitchen is in a giant wooden room with enormous ceilings and huge tables lined with food that should probably be refrigerated, but whatever. There are also great big chalkboard signs listing how many of what type of food are on each table, making the whole thing look like a Pinterest wedding.
Of the food, the most troubling are the vaguely named “sushi bites” sitting on a bed of decorative kale at room temperature, destined to go to an event the next day. Don’t eat those.
The specialty of the house are the “Viking daggers” – lobster tails on skewers with wedges of lemon nestled in them. According to Patty, they cost “two bucks a bite.” Kate gets a bite for free, and seems to like them, but what’s not to like about lobster tails?
All of this is important because of Sybil from the train crossing. Working alongside her BFF and business partner Sybil, Patty started this business in Sybil’s kitchen, and grew it to glitzy Beverly Hills Martha Stewart levels. Sybil is clearly our murderer, so it’s nice to know what kind of person she is.
Also useful is this upcoming bit about caviar.
Patty goes to great lengths to tell us the difference between caviar and lumpfish roe. Caviar comes from sturgeons, while lumpfish roe is an economical alternative that comes from the Scandinavian lumpfish. She leaves out the part about sturgeon being massively overfished since the caviar craze began in the 1960’s, and lumpfish being an ethical alternative as well. The important thing for the episode, though, is that Patty can only eat real caviar. She’s super allergic to lumpfish. If she ate lumpfish it would be a disaster.
This episode is not subtle about its set-up.
Kate gets a taste of the “gift of the Caspian sturgeon” and loves it. Patty then has to run off while Kate takes some photographs for her story, but before she leaves asks if Kate’s still interested in working as a server at the party that night. Kate says she is, and Patty smiles as she leaves and bafflingly says:
“Just don’t print that in your story.”
So, wait. Kate is doing a story on a catering company which includes her working as a server for a party, but she’s not allowed to write about her experience? First of all, why not? As long as she doesn’t gossip about the guests, it probably wouldn’t do any damage to the company’s reputation. Second of all, if she can’t write about being a server, why does she want to do it? So she can wear out a pair of shoes and bitterly hate all of mankind for four hours?
Meanwhile, Sybil is in her office with a client, rattling off a menu that includes savoury crepes, peach duck breast, glazed carrots (those used to be considered fancy), spinach soufflé, baked Alaska, chocolate dipped strawberries, and assorted wines and liqueurs. Oh! And caviar! The client must have caviar, and it must be beluga.
Patty breezes in, and we find out that the client is Mrs. Fischetti – the woman having the party tonight. Mrs. Fischetti doesn’t know how catering works, because she asks Patty and Sybil if she’ll see them at the party.
All seems well between the business partners as Mrs. Fischetti cheerfully bids her goodbyes, but it’s a false friendliness. We soon find out that Patty wants Sybil to buy her out of the catering company so she can go back to being idle rich.
Sybil doesn’t like the idea. She says it’s because she doesn’t want to lose a partner like Patty, but there’s pretty obviously another level of interaction going on. Patty playfully says she’ll hire Sybil to cater her wedding to make up the loss.
Sybil raises an eyebrow at this talk of weddings.
“Anyone I know?” She asks.
Patty says she’s just being speculative, but Sybil doesn’t believe her. It’s almost like she already knows the answer.
When Patty leaves, we haven’t resolved a thing about the fate of the company, but we now have everything we need to predict just about all the twists that are to come. Try to act surprised, though. We don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, people did their best when they wrote this and maybe they were having a tough week or moving houses or something.
Sybil heads straight for her phone and rings up the jewelry store to order a $2,600 watch engraved with a creepy message to Richard:
“Welcome back, darling.” And she wants tomorrow’s date put on it.
She hangs up, then grabs a small empty jar from one of her desk drawers. She fondles it for a bit, looking sinister. Much care is taken to show us the jar, and Sybil slipping it into a very cute brown leather slouch purse. Say what you want about this murderess, she knows how to accessorize.
Also mastering early ‘80s style is Kate, in a very chic trench coat with a little grey dress. She’s running wild down in the kitchens, photographing just about anything that takes her fancy. It almost gets her into trouble when she goes to snap a photo of Sybil by the caviar. Or, rather, the lumpfish.
Sybil, you see, is using that empty baby food jar in her purse to scoop out some of the lumpfish roe and mix it into the good caviar. Is it an underhanded cost-cutting measure, or something far more sinister?
(I know it’s something far more sinister, I told you to act surprised!)
The Viking daggers are crucial to the orchestration of this upcoming murder, btw. After a brief conversation with Kate that accomplishes nothing, Sybil slips out to one of the delivery trucks. It’s here that we learn the company is called Sybil & Patty which, frankly, is not going to appeal to the Beverly Hills crowd. They need to call it Diamond Kitchen Catering or New Money Shrimp or Lavish Expenditures Culinary Experiences. I’m surprised they’re doing so well with such a humdrum name.
Anyway, Sybil moves one of the racks of Viking daggers in the refrigerated truck to an empty compartment and locks it. Meaning that the Fischetti party will be short on its order of the big favourite.
Speaking of the Fischetti party, it’s in full swing later that evening when we get a look at a time capsule of high fashion food. On a table set with white tapered candles, an endless variety of hilarious dishes rest upon decorative lemon slices and beds of kale. Kale used to be used solely for displaying food; people didn’t actually eat it. We’re looking at multitudes of pastry-wrapped items, roasted meats with cherries and pineapples glazed onto them, silver gravy boats full of mysterious yellow sauces, all that fun stuff.
Enjoying the party and making sure the many quiches are sliced appropriately is Patty. She looks at ease mingling with the fancy pants crowd of eccentric California types, and even gets a chuckle when she sees Kate hustling Viking daggers on a tray.
Kate’s doing well with the serving thing, but runs into some trouble when a parlour snake spots her and decides to put on some moves. Or, at least, that seems to be his intention as he starts to follow Kate and her tray around.
Outside stately Fischetti manor, a cab is pulling up.
Sybil, clad in an expensive and dramatic white fur coat, has arrived.
Kate, meanwhile, manages to get rid of her parlour snake by drawing the attention of his wife. The wife literally drags him away by the ear, and Kate has a chuckle and them and their horrible marriage.
In the kitchen, Sybil comes across Patty helping to put mini-quiches on trays to go out. I really can’t undersell the number and variety of quiches being served at this thing. It’s a galaxy of quiche.
But they’ve got a problem. The kitchen is a madhouse and they’re running low on Viking daggers. Sybil says they can’t possibly be running low, didn’t Patty check the numbers? (Cold, Sybil.)
Kate gives some of the household kids who’ve snuck up to see the party some mini-quiches and sends them on their way, then she serves a Viking dagger to a woman in a white dress who slathers the whole thing in cocktail sauce that drips down her front as she talks. Serves her right for dipping a lobster tail in cocktail sauce.
Well, all this has been fun, but now it’s time to commit murder!
Sybil has been taking very special care of the 100% in-no-way-poisoned
lumpfish caviar. She gives the tray to Kate, telling
her to put it someplace nice. Kate, ever the diligent server, walks through
four on-going conversations to do this, and places it on a glass half-table
with a faux-gold base of fluted columns. It’s like a hideous altar of death.
Sybil, in a dramatic black evening gown, takes innocent Patty, dressed in white with flowers in her hair, to the caviar. She brings two glasses of champagne for a toast to celebrate her awesome announcement. She’s buying Patty out of the business.
Patty seems more stunned than happy.
“May it always be like this for us,” Sybil smiles, “Champagne in one hand, and caviar in the other!”
Finally looking pleased, Patty pops the lumpfish roe into her mouth, and immediately goes green. Sybil does a good job of pretending to be surprised that it was lumpfish, and tells Patty that she’ll take her to the hospital. Patty tries to keep it together and not barf.
Is there an allergy expert in the house? Because I have a question. Is it possible to be allergic to lumpfish and not sturgeon roe? Aren’t most seafood and shellfish allergies pretty generic? I tried to find out with my old pal Google, but no luck.
Next step of the plan is to get Patty out of the party. They head through the kitchen, where Sybil drapes Patty in that white fur coat and tells her to go wait in the car. Kate sees that Patty is sick, Sybil doesn’t say why, and you can tell Kate suspects something’s up. She watches Patty with an expression like: “this will be a clue later.”
Clue later, or your chance to save a life right now? Kate doesn’t care. Despite being old friends with Patty and not actually working for the catering company, she decides that where she’s needed most is on the floor serving more quiche.
Mrs. Fischetti bustles in, dripping with red sequence, and tuts about how they’re running out of Viking daggers. Everyone wants them, where are they?! Sybil says she’ll go pick up some more right now, it’s no problem. Thanks for the alibi, Mrs. Fischetti.
Kate has a quick change of heart, and quickly hurries over to Sybil and asks if Patty’s doing alright. Sybil says that Patty had too much alcohol on an empty stomach and so she sent her home.
Wait, Patty is supposedly driving home drunk?
Kate doesn’t even blink at this, and agrees to hold down the fort while Sybil goes to get more daggers.
Under the cover of darkness, Sybil slowly pulls up to the train crossing in Patty’s Mercedes. Parked nearby is Sybil’s own gold-coloured Rolls Royce. I don’t think there was ever really a time when you could get away with having a golden car. I’m pretty sure that even in 1979 every time you pulled up to a stop light some wise guy would sing the Goldfinger song at you super loud.
But you’re probably worried about Patty, so let’s focus on that.
She’s not looking so great. She’s all sweaty and disoriented, and barely comprehending what Sybil is saying, and what Sybil is saying is all kinds of ominous. Stuff about how she knows that Patty and Richard have been having an affair – her husband and her business partner, how disgusting – and that Richard has proposed marriage to Patty. But it’s a marriage that won’t be happening. Unless Patty wants to play Corpse Bride.
Sybil snatches back that luxe fur coat she’d given Patty as a blanket, and hops out of the car. She says that all of this is really her fault for trusting Patty.
And, you know, also for releasing the parking break so that the car rolls into an oncoming train.
Some might argue that, ultimately, it was Sybil murdering her that caused Patty’s death.
Curiously, Sybil doesn’t think that Patty being on the passenger’s side when the train hit her car is going to raise any eyebrows.
She hops into her solid gold car and speeds back to the Fischetti party. Surely someone will notice that she arrived in a taxi and left in a golden car? Golden cars are super noticeable, Sybil. Learn how to cover up a murder. I mean, really.
The final step is to get back to the Fischetti house, retrieve the “missing” Viking daggers from the locked fridge on the truck, presume nobody will notice that there was a randomly locked fridge that no longer has a lock on it, and rejoin the party.
“Isn’t it a lovely evening?” Sybil beams, sipping her champagne.
Poor Patty has been toasted like a crostini and nobody’s the wiser.
The next day, various appropriate police and response personnel are at the scene of Patty’s fatal collision. They’re looking at the crunched up Mercedes and shaking their heads.
Kate is watching the investigation, and so is Sybil. That’s not a big shock, but what is kind of a surprise is that they’re in the same car and Sybil decides to start the conversation with:
“I killed her.”
Kate replies that Sybil did no such thing, she was a good friend to Patty and a loyal business partner and all of this has been a horrible accident. (So Kate doesn’t quite have Columbo’s mystical sixth sense about the guilty party.) Sybil starts pretending to cry and insisting that she never should’ve let Patty drive home alone.
First of all, nobody should’ve, your cover story was that Patty was drunk. Second of all, how could Patty have driven a car when she was buckled into the wrong seat?! Think, Sybil!
“Once, I dropped my purse at a street corner, and when I picked it up the light turned red,” Kate replies. “And when I was waiting, I saw someone I hadn’t seen in a long time. It changed my whole day. It changed my whole life. It changed everybody’s lives. And that’s how World War III got started. My fault. I dropped my purse.”
Credit where credit is due, Kate Mulgrew delivers this terrible speech perfectly. But this probably isn’t the way to go in terms of grief support. Even if the other person is a fake-grieving murderer. Also, it’s not funny, and I think it’s meant to be.
Sybil tells Kate that Patty was on the cusp of a whole new life. She was quitting the catering business. Kate says she knows, Patty told her she was getting married in a few days.
“Has he been told yet? Her fiancé?”
“No. I don’t know. I never met him. Must’ve been somebody new.”
Kate catches the obvious slip-up, but decides the thing to focus on is finding out who the guy is, not why Sybil wouldn’t have been told his identity.
It looks like Kate is buying everything Sybil is selling, until she hops out of the car to go talk to the police. Sybil waits, watching as Kate points at her and gestures to the officer in charge, and it’s pretty clear that Sybil is certain she’s been sunk somehow.
She’s not sunk. Not just yet, anyway.
The officer in charge comes over to talk to tell her that Kate was asking him if he had any information about her fur coat – you remember, the one Sybil draped Patty in and then took back just before killing her. Well, it wasn’t found at the scene, which isn’t great. As far as all the witnesses in the Fischetti kitchen know, Patty drove home in that coat while Sybil went to get more Viking daggers.
But more on all that later.
For now, it’s time to see about this Richard business. For being in only one scene so far, Richard is a pretty crucial character, and also not the kind of man you’d expect two successful, wealthy women to be fighting over. What with Sybil’s cold nature and statuesque beauty competing against the sultry Patty’s youthful joie de vivre, you’d think the guy at the centre of it would be dynamite looking. Richard isn’t even a definite type, he’s just kinda meh.
Anyway, Richard in all of his bland glory, is waiting for Sybil at her house. She’s surprised to find him in her living room, and he’s come to tell her that their divorce was finalized that morning.
“I know you wanted me, Sybil,” he sighs, stretching out on the over-stuffed cream sectional, “like a child wants a toy. And you gave me everything I wanted. I just couldn’t live like that anymore.”
Being wanted and provided for is the worst.
Apparently, she had him sign a prenuptial agreement keeping his sun kissed hands off her assets, which he found humiliating. I’m going to side with Sybil here; if you decide to marry your kept man, it’s probably a good idea not to give him the keys to the kingdom. Gigolos are notoriously irresponsible with finances.
But Richard didn’t like his life of luxury-within-bounds and expected loyalty in exchange for goods and services. Richard apparently thought that putting a ring on it changes the entire dynamic of your relationship, and magically when you become a thing called “husband” you get to be in charge of stuff you’ve shown zero aptitude for. It’s like he was living in 1879 instead of 1979.
Then, on Sybil’s end, the usual trouble with marrying this type of man came up. All of a sudden, she wasn’t good enough for him in the looks department, and he stepped out to find a younger model with fewer brains. In this case, Patty.
Richard’s no dummy, though. With his trophy mistress dead, his ex-wife now owns all of the catering business without losing a cent. Plus he and Patty weren’t actually married yet, so he doesn’t inherit her share. Plus the whole reason he needed Patty to be bought out was so they would have actual money to live on, because (and here’s the big clue that I’m not being unfair with these gigolo digs) he has no independent income. All of his money is Sybil’s money.
So, what now for our grief-stricken secret fiancé?
He’s going back to Sybil, of course. He tells her that he never stopped loving her, and that he always knew he’d have no choice but to come back, because even though he’s not wild about being a boy-toy, he is wild about Sybil.
(Uh-huh. Sure, Richard. Everyone believes you because you’re so virtuous.)
Sybil falls for it, and looks radiantly happy as she gives him the watch she bought. The one with the incriminating date on it, you remember.
Sybil isn’t good at this at all.
Meanwhile, over at Kate’s house, she’s getting ready for a romantic evening with her husband, who may or may not be Lt. Columbo. Technically, at this point in the series, that’s who he’s supposed to be, but I’m going to go ahead and surmise that she’s married to a totally different man named Columbo who works on the police force. One of the brothers or cousins or nephews or something. It’s a big family. It’s plausible.
Anyway, even though she’s put on her sexiest blue nightgown – the one with the long flowing sleeves and itchy lace, because men love itchy lace and modesty – and even though she swiped some surplus caviar from the Fischetti party, her husband isn’t coming home. He phoned while she was in the shower and left a message with their daughter saying he had a very important murder to solve.
It was probably Patrick McGoohan shooting someone standing between him and his destiny. Or Robert Culp bludgeoning a guy who was interfering with his cash flow. There’s also slim chance it was Jack Cassidy strangling a dude for being more popular than him.
By the way, have you ever been brought a UPS package at nine o’clock at night? Kate has. While she stands amid the wreckage of her romantic plans, watching Dog eat the very expensive caviar straight off the table, the doorbell rings.
It’s a gift from Sybil!
And it’s not a bomb!
It’s a great big box that comes with a cassette tape instead of a card because that was at one point considered very ritzy. I don’t know why. Disco had just died, and people were confused about how to be on-trend.
“Kate, dear. How can I tell you how touched I was by all your consideration?” Sybil’s voice coos from the tape player, sounding like some kind of etiquette obsessed scorpion queen, “The coat you asked about wasn’t in Patty’s car at all. It was in mine. I’d forgotten she gave it back before she drove away. For me, it would always be a painful reminder of last night. I don’t suppose we’ll be seeing much more of each other, we both have our own lives to live, so please accept this parting gift as a simple thank you.”
Don’t think of it as being bought off to stop asking questions, though. That would be willfully misconstruing the intent of being given an extremely expensive fur coat involved in the commission of a crime. It’s a thank you present, Kate. Enjoy it.
Kate does enjoy it, for about two minutes, twirling around, looking super glam. And despite the fact that Sybil is a good five inches taller than Kate, the coat fits both of them perfectly.
Meanwhile, over at Sybil’s house, she and Richard are lounging by the fireplace like they’re in an ad for a sexy ski resort. Richard admits that he’s not as good at business as Sybil, and asks if he could be made a partner on paper.
You know, Richard, when you get back together with your ex-wife right after the shocking death of your latest gravy train and then ask her that same evening to give you half of her business, it’s pretty transparent.
She slowly pulls away from him, and hands him a drink and a bite to eat.
“May it always be like this for us,” she toasts, “Champagne in one hand, caviar in the other.”
Huh. The last time she said that, she murdered the hell out of the person she said it to…
The doorbell rings, and Richard – who has no idea he was just given the kiss of death – goes to answer it. He finds Kate, eager to return the fur coat that reminds everyone of Patty’s grisly death. I feel like this is one of those situations where the responsible thing to do is sell the coat to a thrift store and see if it’s haunted or cursed by watching the lives of those who buy it.
It could be its own spin-off. We could call it Fur is Murder.
Sybil, meantime, is giving serious consideration to the brass fire poker. With its capacity for blunt trauma and its added stabbing bonuses, it seems ideally suited to dispatching Richard.
Kate and the coat push their way into the living room, where Sybil puts the poker away and looks disappointed that Kate isn’t keeping the hush fur. (Like hush money but a fur, you see.)
Richard is formally introduced as Sybil’s “Ex-husband. Recent. Husband-to-be, very recent.”
He looks uncomfortable with that.
Hey, Richard, you made your choices, buddy. Nobody came around and handed you some dystopian job slip that said gigolo on it. Either quit the game or cheer up about it.
He looks even more uncomfortable when he learns that Sybil gave Kate her absurdly expensive white fur coat. Sybil quickly explains that Kate is a reporter doing a story on the business, and kind of implies that it’s a bribe to get good press.
Kate totally misses that, and happily explains that she just works for a small local paper and the coat was a gift because of something to do with Patty’s fatal accident. But, she doesn’t want to interrupt Sybil’s obviously sexy evening, so she’ll split.
“You just go on doing whatever it is you’re doing!” She winks at Sybil and makes her exit.
Sybil is satisfied with these instructions and picks the poker back up.
For some reason, this show plays a happy waltz before murders. It’s jaunty and kind of a mix between the Murder, She Wrote theme and something you’d hear at a ball in The Three Musketeers. It really doesn’t feel suspenseful, and it makes this a comedic moment totally by accident.
But, quite honestly, I’d be more than happy to watch a black comedy about Sybil killing her way to the top. She’s being played by Claudette Nevins, and it’s so much fun.
Richard gets to live right now, though.
Syb’s just about to knock in his noggin when the bell rings again.
She swings the door open, fire poker in hand, and startles Kate who laughs and puts up her hands:
“Don’t hit me!”
She just wanted to let Sybil know that she’ll bring her a copy of the story before the paper prints it, because in the interests of journalistic integrity, you should always give the owner of a successful company the chance to change whatever she wants. Especially after she gives you a fur coat.
Kate also takes the opportunity to waggle her eyebrows at Sybil and mention that Richard is very handsome.
Richard looks like the kind of guy who you end up standing next to at a crosswalk, or sitting at a group table with at some community dinner. If your friend brought him to a party, you wouldn’t think much of it, but you also wouldn’t be high fiving her. He’s a slightly above average looking man. Add that in with the sleazy clothes, and the whole kept man deal, and his score goes down.
Thanks to the constant interruptions, Sybil decides it’s a bad night to murder Richard. After Kate leaves the second time, she grumpily deposits the fire poker in the umbrella stand in the front hall and goes to finish off that bottle of champagne.
Up next? It’s time to put the fun in funeral as we lay Patty’s train-mangled body to rest.
Sybil and Richard are paying their respects at the open (?!) casket, while Kate sits at the back and tries to figure out which unattached man was about to tie the knot with the deceased. Her most-likely is a man with a moustache who stands by the doorway, but it turns out that he’s the funeral director.
Her next runner up is a guy who lays a single rose on the casket before hurrying out down a side hallway. Kate chases after him, and discovers that he’s Patty’s attorney and also already married. From him, we learn that Patty was making some serious financial changes in the coming months, but everybody – not just us as the omnipotent audience, but Kate as well – already knew that. Sybil mentioned Patty selling the business back at the crime scene.
The investigation at the funeral is a failure. Or is it?
When next we see Kate, she’s sitting in a lounge chair, poolside, wearing a chunky sweater and not looking particularly interested in summer fun. Richard notices her as he climbs out of the water, and there’s a slightly weird exchange between them.
Kate admires the watch Sybil gave him, and he’s evasive about taking the compliment. She seems kind of intense here, and there’s little to merit it. She tells him she was at the funeral, saw him there, saw everybody there but the man Patty was engaged to.
He asks why she’d be looking for him, and she tells him that she’s obsessed with making sure details all fit together in the world. Like life is a puzzle.
“Sounds very compulsive,” Richard shakes his head.
He has a point. Life’s details do not fit together, and you’d think that the wife of a homicide detective would know that better than most.
The pool these two are hanging out at, now talking about how Dog ate five hundred dollars’ worth of food in that earlier scene, belongs to Sybil’s apartment building. Sybil is watching them from her balcony, when something catches her fancy. It’s nothing to do with the amateur detective making waves below, it’s the balcony railing. It’s not very sturdy. It wiggles a great deal when pushed.
If Richard were to lean too heavily against it, then it would be a tragic accident and there’d be very little clean-up on Sybil’s end. The pool might be out of order for a couple of weeks, but that would be included in maintenance fees she’s already paying anyway. It’s brilliant.
Between Richard and Kate, the conversation has turned from Dog ruining a romantic evening to what, in specific, Dog ate.
“I remember, before I married Sybil, there was this girl,” Richard smiles fondly, “She was a sensational girl. We were spending a few days at the Sultan’s Palace in Palm Springs. The first night I wanted to be very special, I ordered caviar, champagne, everything I could think of. Turns out this girl was allergic to caviar. I have never seen anybody so sick in my whole life. I called the doctor – I spent more time with that doctor than the girl. When I left Palm Springs, he asked me to write.”
Alright, for all my griping about Richard not being the standard gigolo in looks, he does a really good job of this story. Actually, after this, I could see someone enjoying conversations with him. It’s a point in his favour and I’ve been kind of mean so I’d figure I’d mention that he’s a likeable actor, if miscast.
(I know! Sometime soon, we’ll watch that episode of Blacke’s Magic he was in! It’s not great, but it’s a better fit for him. He plays a government whistleblower married to Lynda Day George.)
Despite being a brilliant amateur detective, Kate doesn’t realize that Richard’s story was totally about Patty, and she rushes off to pick up her daughter from school.
Once he’s all dried off and towel-soft, Richard joins Sybil for a drink on… the balcony!
He suggests that they do “something grand” like chartering a railroad car and touring the country. Not a bad idea. Sybil can push him out onto the tracks, and then a train can kill both of the lovers who betrayed her. Extra points if it’s the same train.
“Richard, darling, where’s your watch?” Our favourite black widow asks.
He says he must’ve left it by the pool. She makes him come over to the railing and have a look down to see if he can spot it by the chairs. It’s quite the drop. I get a little freaked out just looking at it. Richard peers down, and Sybil gets ready to shove. Her hands are just coming down when – quelle surprise – the doorbell rings.
Richard should invest all his money in a doorbell manufacturing company. Those damn things have saved his life more times than he knows, he owes them everything.
Well. You’ll never guess who rang the bell.
And you’ll never guess what she’s brought with her.
She realized he’d left it by the pool and turned around to make sure he got it, because it’s so expensive and helping rich people hold onto their stuff is probably more important than picking up your kid on time. It’s not like kids remember waiting on the school steps for the rest of their lives.
Thus thwarted, Sybil cozies up to Richard and says that they should start planning this romantic railroad getaway. He can bring the picnic basket, she’ll bring the arsenic.
After all, Sybil loves trains.
Henry Jones was a wonderful character actor who was in at least one episode of everything, and had numerous recurring roles on TV shows with varying degrees of longevity. But his best performance was as Leroy Jessup in The Bad Seed.
On Mrs. Columbo, he played Josh Alden, the editor of The Weekly Advertiser. Kate’s part-time boss.
Mr. Alden is pleased with the article Kate’s done on Patty and Sybil, and he suggests she move to New York so that she can focus on her career. I don’t know how the article turned out so good since Kate wasn’t allowed to use any of the information she researched, but maybe she focused on Patty’s accident.
Like a collapsed soufflé, Patty’s brief life was a story of a tremendous rise cut bitterly short by an unexpected tragedy. Only this time, it was not heavy footsteps in the kitchen to blame, but a train crunching up her car…
Also hilarious to think about is that a scandalous murder involving infidelity and the behind-the-scenes of the Beverly Hills catering world is about to be broken wide open by The Weekly Advertiser. The major papers are going to be sick.
Mr. Alden tells Kate that she needs to cut her story down to five hundred words and pick a single photo to go with it. Don’t worry, Kate, the very best people are image-heavy and verbose. It’s cool.
The tricky thing is choosing a photo. I like the one with the super unappetizing quail platter, but Kate is more interested in the ones of Sybil standing by the incriminating platter of caviar. Another one that catches her eye in a rack of Viking daggers, and she asks Mr. Alden where she can get a blow-up made.
Something in that photo is very interesting.
Over at the catering kitchens, Sybil is patrolling the Forest of Many Quiches with her clipboard when she’s paged for a phone call. It’s Kate, bullying her way into a midnight meeting at Sybil’s office to talk about Patty. You want to talk about Patty, don’t you, Sybil? Of course you do, see you at midnight, bye!
Kate hangs up, looking pretty triumphant for someone who’s withholding evidence in a murder investigation.
Sybil hangs up looking much more disdainful and murderous than she normally does, which is pretty frickin’ disdainful and murderous.
Kate might have a bigger problem on her hands than she realizes.
That night, Sybil turns up in a devilishly red dress and – god knows why – the white fur coat. The white fur coat. The one she really should’ve burned or something. She just walks in wearing it like it’s not super incriminating or anything.
Kate is waiting in the office with a platter of caviar and champagne; she says that Sybil’s secretary insisted on putting out a lavish tray. Sybil says that it’s quite alright, and settles in to hear Kate’s news about Patty’s death.
First of all, this whole time, Kate’s had a jar that had once obviously held lumpfish. She pulls it out of her purse, in a Ziploc bag. Awesome chain of custody skills, Kate. There’s no way this’ll present a problem in court.
And where did the lumpfish jar come from? The pocket of Sybil’s fur coat. Sybil somehow managed to fold that thing to fit in a garment box without noticing the baby food jar in the pocket. Or without checking for, like, hundred dollar bills or naked photos of Richard or whatever Beverly Hills type people have in their coat pockets.
Kate has also figured out that Richard was Patty’s mysterious fiancé thanks to Richard’s poolside reminiscence. You see, it wasn’t the fact that the story was obviously about Patty that tipped Kate off, (but lbr, how many people in the same social circle are allergic to caviar?) it was the part about the hotel. The Sultan’s Palace? It was built eight months ago. So Richard couldn’t have taken a girl there before he was married to Sybil.
He took Patty there, sometime in the last eight months. So, despite being allergic to caviar, Patty apparently blindly shovelled fish eggs into her craw twice in the last year before her death. She wasn’t the brightest bulb in the box.
But, Kate, Sybil has an amazing alibi! She was fetching the Viking daggers!
Which brings us to Kate’s photo. She has a photo of the lobster tails being loaded on the truck. But, this doesn’t work, because she has a photo of some lobster tails being loaded, and we know that Mrs. Fischetti ordered more than one rack, because Viking daggers were being served throughout the evening before anyone realized they were short. And the part that needed blowing up? That was the segment of the photo that proved it was lobster tails on those trays, but you could tell that from far away.
This is a worthless clue.
“All puzzle, no proof.” Sybil shrugs, donning her fur coat and making to leave.
And she has a point. None of this is particularly damning, and nothing she can’t talk her way out of.
Kate hasn’t even mentioned the fact that people can’t drive cars from the passenger side.
But she does have Richard’s watch, and its engraving.
Which included the date of his romantic return.
The day after Patty was killed.
“You know Patty and Richard were going to be married, and you couldn’t have known he’d come back to you the day after she died unless… you planned to murder Patty at the train crossing.”
Sybil doesn’t confess. She just asks how Kate got Richard’s watch. Kate says it isn’t Richard’s, it belongs to her husband’s Uncle Nick. The commodities broker.
So that’s a meaningless clue, too. Sybil didn’t even confess, and Kate’s not a cop, and now Sybil has plenty of time to mount a defense because she knows exactly what the police will and will not have on her. This is a massive error on Kate’s part.
The phone rings while Sybil looks defeated.
He has a sexy evening planned, and wants to know what Sybil thinks of snuggling up with him in a million dollar blanket.
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” Sybil says. Then she hangs up and toasts Kate with a glass of champagne, and the episode ends on a freeze frame.
So, wait, is this episode about women helping each other out of murder raps? Because Sybil is totally going free and Kate doesn’t seem upset about it.
The police aren’t even here to arrest her.
The two of them just sit there, smiling.
Champagne in one hand and caviar in the other.