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Recap / Columbo S 04 E 02

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Episode: Season 4, Episode 2
Title:"Negative Reaction"
Directed by: Alf Kjellin
Written by: Peter S. Fisher
Air Date: October 15, 1974
Previous: An Exercise in Fatality
Next: By Dawn's Early Light
Guest Starring: Dick Van Dyke, Don Gordon
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"Negative Reaction" is the second episode of the fourth season of Columbo.

Paul Galesko (Dick Van Dyke) is a professional photographer who is stuck in an unhappy marriage with his controlling, emasculating, shrewish wife Frances (Antoinette Bower). Paul doesn't want to be married anymore, preferring instead his good-looking and obviously very interested assistant Lorna McGrath (Joanna Cameron), but he still wants Frances's money. So Paul decides to kill his wife and stage a fake kidnapping as his story. He creates a fake ransom note, then drives his wife to an isolated ranch house, where he ties her up, takes ransom photographs with an off-time clock (to create an alibi), and then shoots her.

His fall guy is poor unfortunate ex-convict Alvin Deschler (Don Gordon), who Galesko met during a photography assignment at San Quentin, and who thinks he has lucked into a job as Galesko's assistant. Instead, Paul leaves incriminating evidence in Deschler's hotel room, lures Deschler to a remote junkyard, and kills him too, after tricking Deschler into getting his prints all over the ransom note. Finally, Paul puts the gun he used to kill his wife into Deschler's hand and uses it to fire a shot into his own leg, to make it look like he killed Deschler in self-defense.

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It seems to be an open-and-shut case: Deschler's prints on the note, Deschler's prints in the house where Frances was found (Paul tricked Deschler into doing that by supposedly hiring Deschler as a stand-in to buy him the house), Deschler's prints on the gun that killed Frances, the newspaper that was used to make the ransom note in Deschler's hotel room. Unfortunately for Paul, Lt. Columbo is the investigator, and finds a couple of flies in the ointment. A hobo who happened to be sleeping in an abandoned car in the junkyard reports that there was a long pause between the first and second shots. There's a powder burn on Paul's pants, which there shouldn't be if he was in a shootout with Deschler. There's a lack of dust on the clock in the ranch house. And he wonders why a kidnapper like Deschler would be taking cabs everywhere he was going up through just a few days before the murder.

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Joyce van Patten, who plays a kind-hearted nun in this episode, played the murderer in Season 6 episode "Old Fashioned Murder".


Tropes:

  • Absence of Evidence: Paul leaves the clipped-out newspapers in Deschler's hotel room. The only problem is that the maid said she came through and cleaned earlier and saw no newspapers. Paul says the maid must have lied, but Columbo replies that that doesn't work either, because if the maid never came into the room, extra clippings from the newspaper would have to be on the floor.
  • The Alleged Car: Another instance of the Running Gag with Columbo's crappy old car. When he pulls up to the junkyard the cop at the entrance thinks he's dumping his car in the yard. Then when he tries to drive in, his engine won't start.
  • Asshole Victim: Mrs. Frances Galesko. Paul's wife is portrayed as domineering and entitled, and detached from Paul's feelings. The fact that she was so controlling of his career life doesn't help either.
  • Awful Wedded Life: From what little we see of Frances before she is killed, it is made abundantly clear that she made Galesko's life an absolute hell, needling him on his Sexy Secretary, badgering him out of his dream job, and constant nagging on him. He killed her so he could finally have her out of his life.
  • Batman Gambit: Columbo pulls off one by slipping something unexpected onto the killer's alibi (The fact the original picture was destroyed) to make him sweat, not unlike he's done the entire episode. This leads to Galesko to impulsively identify the camera.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: Columbo shows Paul the photo of his wife tied to the chair, and says that it proves he killed her, because the clock behind her shows 10:00 a.m., which was when she was with Paul. Columbo's about to arrest him when Paul says no, the photo's been flipped left to right, and the clock (an analog one with hands) really showed 2 p.m. He plucks the camera off the shelf to show Columbo—and that is how he's caught. Paul reaches over to a shelf in the evidence room that was full of cameras and plucks out the one that was used to take the photo of Frances, which proves that he knew which camera was the right camera. Columbo had the photo print flipped on purpose to get Paul to make that mistake.
  • Cut-and-Paste Note: Paul makes the standard ransom note with newspaper clippings in order to fake the kidnapping, then uses the cut-up newspapers as part of the frame job by leaving them in Deschler's hotel room.
  • Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: Paul creates an intricate frame-up involving Alvin Deschler, a convict he met while making a book of photographs of San Quentin prison. He then shoots Deschler to make sure he can't tell his side of the story, then puts the gun that killed Frances into Deschler's hand and shoots himself in the leg to explain why he felt compelled to kill Deschler.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Columbo picks up the DMV guy who gave Deschler his driver's test. Columbo drives so poorly that the DMV guy tells him to pull over and then exits the car in terror. When he ends up identifying Deschler from a photo as having taken the driver's test earlier, he reclutantly agrees to visit the police station with Columbo for them to take his statement, but only if he doesn't have to suffer any more of Columbo's reckless driving, to which he replies that the DMV guy can drive his car there himself instead.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: At Frances' funeral, Galesko tells Lorna she was "Out of line" with her Last Disrespects. It is possible, however, that he is just saying that to save face.
  • Foreshadowing: Columbo's discovery at the pawn shop that a photograph can be flipped from left to right in development foreshadows how he catches Paul.
  • Genius Slob: Columbo goes into a homeless shelter to interview the hobo witness. The nun running the shelter mistakes Columbo for a homeless person, sits him down with a plate of beef stew, and has found a replacement for his aged raincoat by the time Columbo finally manages to tell her he's a police officer—and even then she assumes he's undercover as a homeless man.
    Columbo: I've had this coat for seven years.
    Nun: Oh, you poor man.
    • Later, when Columbo can't find an ashtray in Paul's house, he taps the cigar ash into his pocket.
    • The hobo who witnesses the shooting, Dolan, also qualifies as a minor version of one: while he's loud and rambling while drunk, he comes off as far more eloquent when he's sober, both in his earlier written testimony and when Columbo meets him again in the homeless shelter. Unfortunately for him, Dolan can't remember anything of yesterday's events or even the testimony he gave earlier.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: Paul asks Deschler if he mentioned Paul's name to the realtor, and Deschler says no, he pretended to be buying the house for himself as Paul instructed. If Deschler had mentioned Paul's name to the realtor, the whole plan would have been ruined.
  • Henpecked Husband: All the insanely irritating carping and nagging by Frances certainly do help explain why Paul killed her. Also, it's later revealed that she badgered him into leaving the world of art photography for less rewarding but more lucrative portrait photography.
  • Hobos: The first problem in Paul's plan comes right after he shoots himself in the leg, when a drunk hobo who happened to relaxing in the back of an abandoned car shows up as an unexpected witness. Later Columbo tracks the hobo down to a Catholic mission on Skid Row.
  • Idiot Ball: Besides frustration with Columbo's (feigned) ignorance about photography and professional pride, it's unclear why exactly Paul decided to blow his cover story and identify the camera he used to take photos at the scene of the crime. Even he is stunned at what he did and how he just demonstrated that he took the pictures of his wife.
    • It's implied that Columbo's plan was, by claiming the original was destroyed, and that wasn't sure about flips, the original was NECESSARY to prove Paul's alibi...and Paul would be so angry he'd forget he'd never seen the camera.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: What ultimately does Paul in. When Columbo states that he lost the original picture he reversed, Paul gets incensed and grabs the camera off the evidence shelf to show Columbo the negative. Of course, it raises the question of how Paul could have known which of the cameras contained the picture, especially since there were at least ten other cameras on that shelf.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: It's not really clear why Paul takes on all the trouble and risk associated with murdering both his wife and an innocent third party, rather than just divorcing her and running off with his smoking hot and obviously interested secretary Lorna. It might be because he wants to keep all of Frances' money, but nothing in the dialogue indicates that. Besides, Paul is a well-known photographer who's published several books, so he wouldn't be left starving. In light of those facts, it feels as if killed his wife purely out of spite.
  • Nice Guy: Probably to ensure that Galesko doesn't get the audience's sympathy given the Asshole Victim case above, Alvin Deschler - his murdered fall guy - is, despite being an ex-con, a perfectly kind and contemplative puppy dog of a man who was ecstatic at having a second chance at life and trusted Galesko completely for giving him that chance, only for Galesko to only ever care about him because he made a good patsy to frame for murder and then kill.
  • No Seat Belts: In 1974 they had only been required in California for a little over a year. The DMV instructor is horrified when he gets into Columbo's car and discovers there are no seat belts.
  • The Perfectionist: Another mistake by Paul that helps point Columbo his way. Paul discards the first ransom photo of Frances as being badly framed and composed, leaving it balled-up in the fireplace.
  • Phoney Call: Paul uses this to bolster his kidnap story. He gets Deschler to call him at a certain time. They talk, with Paul choosing his words carefully for the benefit of the maid, then Paul hangs up on Deschler. Paul then pretends to continue to talk and acts like he's talking to a kidnapper, the maid listening from the hallway all the while.
  • Rich Bitch: Frances is mean and arrogant and obnoxious, and seems to think that she owns Paul.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Paul gives Francis one of these as he's getting ready to shoot her:
    Paul:I have this...dream, Frances. I'm working, and, uh, there's a phone call, and he says, "Terribly sorry, Mr. Galesko, but... your wife's dead. Unfortunate accident"... and then I always wake up, and I want to cry. Because you're still alive, Frances, and I have nothing to face that day, but another 24 hours with a domineering, nagging, suffocating woman who took all the joy out of my life.

  • Self-Defense Ruse: Paul murdered his wife and made it look like a kidnapping gone bad. He then killed an ex-con and framed him for the kidnapping, claiming the ransom exchange had gone bad and he had to kill the "kidnapper" in self-defense.
  • Sexy Secretary: Lorna, Paul's secretary/assistant. They're not having an affair yet, but Lorna is plainly interested, and it's heavily implied that the photography trip Paul's taking to the Philippines is also going to be a romantic getaway with Lorna.
  • She's Got Legs: Lorna is introduced wearing a short skirt and leaning over a desk so that her long legs are well-displayed. Another part of Paul's motive for murder drops into place.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: The drunk who heard Paul shooting Deschler is unable to remember anything about that day once he's sobered up, to the chagrin of Columbo, who'd wanted the man to confirm his story (recited to officers on the scene while he was still drunk) that Galesko had lead about how things went down.
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