Title:"Mind over Mayhem"
Directed by: Alf Kjellin
Written by: Steven Bochco, Dean Hargrove, and Roland Kibbee (teleplay), Robert Specht (story)
Air Date: February 10, 1974
Previous: Publish or Perish
Next: Swan Song
Guest Starring: Jose Ferrer, Lew Ayres, Robert Walker Jr., Jessica Walter
"Mind over Mayhem" is the sixth episode of the third season of Columbo.
Dr. Marshall Cahill (Jose Ferrer) is the director of a cybernetics research institute that conducts studies in a wide variety of fields, from military combat to drugs to natural gas-powered cars to advanced robotics. Unfortunately for Cahill, one of the senior scientists at the institute, Professor Howard Nicholson (Lew Ayres) has some bad news. It seems that Cahill's son Neil (Robert Walker Jr.), who is about to receive a major scientific award for his research on "molecular matter", actually plagiarized everything from another scientist, the recently deceased Carl Finch. Marshall begs Howard to keep quiet, to avoid disgrace for Neil and embarrassment for the institute, but Howard, who cares about scientific integrity, says that if Neil doesn't confess he will expose him.
Marshall resolves on murder, and sneaks out with one of the institute's natural gas cars. Soon after Howard's much younger wife Margaret (Jessica Walter, nearly 30 years before Arrested Development) leaves to teach a class, Marshall catches Howard in his driveway and runs him down with the car. He attempts to stage a scene suggesting that Howard was killed by an unknown party who absconded with the heroin that Howard kept in his lab for research. However, Lt. Columbo, who sees a match in the ashtray that shouldn't be there and a shoe polish scuff mark on the wall, isn't fooled.
MM-7, the chess-playing robot who is crucial to Cahill's alibi, is played by Robby The Robot.
- Batman Gambit: How Columbo finally breaks Cahill. He never does get his usual "gotcha" evidence, but instead arrests Neil for the murder, after producing a fake witness who pretends to have knowledge of an affair between Neil and Margaret. This leads Marshall to break down and confess, which was Columbo's plan all along.
- Child Prodigy: Steve, who built MM-7 and has his own lab, is eleven.
- A Dog Named "Dog": Not the first appearance of Columbo's dog, but this is the episode where we learn that Columbo calls his dog "Dog" because he and Mrs. Columbo were unable to agree on a name.
- Flipping the Table: MM-7 does this after losing a game of chess to Steve.
- Graceful Loser: Cahill confesses with an air of resignation and inquires as to how Columbo figured out it was him. Then they share a cigar together before the credits roll.
- MayDecember Romance: Margaret is half Howard's age, but their single scene together shows theirs to be a loving and affectionate marriage.
- Shout-Out: The pre-teen boy genius who built MM-7 the robot is named "Steven Spelberg". This is a reference to Steven Spielberg, then the boy wonder who had earlier directed Columbo Season 1 premiere "Murder by the Book" and who had just graduated to feature films with The Sugarland Express (and would soon hit the big time with Jaws).
- Smart People Play Chess: Smart robots play chess, and boy geniuses beat them.
- Technicolor Science: Howard's lab has the standard set of beakers and flasks containing brightly colored liquids.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Neil's motive for publishing a plagiarized research paper, to win his father's respect. It backfires spectacularly.