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Recap / Columbo S 09 E 01

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He had such a good thing going!

Episode: Season 9, Episode 1
Title:"Murder, a Self-Portrait"
Directed by: James Frawley
Written by: Robert Sherman
Air Date: November 25, 1989
Previous: Grand Deceptions
Next: Columbo Cries Wolf
Guest Starring: Patrick Bauchau, Fionnula Flanagan, Shera Danese, Isabel Garcia Lorca, George Coe

"Murder, a Self-Portrait" is the first episode of the 9th season of Columbo.

Max Barsini (Patrick Bauchau) is an artist with a pretty great life. He's rich. He has a fancy Malibu beach house. And if that's not cool enough, he has a harem of three women: his middle-aged but still attractive first wife Louise (Fionnula Flanagan), his younger, good-looking current wife Vanessa (Shera Danese, Peter Falk's wife), and his still younger, gorgeous model/mistress Julie (Isabel Garcia Lorca), who all live together with him.

Unfortunately for Max, Louise wants out of his little polyamorous universe. He is disturbed to hear that she is leaving him and moving in with her former therapist, Dr. Sydney Hammer (George Coe). Far worse, Louise's news leads to a nasty argument in which she makes a veiled reference to a dark secret in Max's past.


Whatever the secret is, it's bad enough that Max can't risk Louise ever telling her new lover. He smothers her into unconsciousness with a rag soaked in paint thinner and then drowns her in the ocean. Max thinks it will look like Louise drowned while swimming, but of course Lt. Columbo of the LAPD is not fooled. If Louise went out swimming, why did she put on only one contact lens and leave the other in its case?



  • Absence of Evidence: Columbo shreds Max's alibi when he notes that there is not one drop of paint on the floor of the loft where Max supposedly spent the time of the murder painting. This is in contrast to his own studio where Max is painting Columbo, where the floor under his canvas is splattered with paint. Conclusion: Max didn't paint anything in the loft of that bar the afternoon. (The fact that there is no running water in the room where Max supposedly painted for hours also helps.)
  • And Starring: The credits end with "and George Coe as Dr. Hammer."
  • As You Know: When Louise and Max see a photo of them with another man in Vito's restaurant, she makes sure to describe the other man as "Harry, with the monocle. Your first art dealer." This is Foreshadowing to indicate that the long-lost Harry has something to do with Max's dark secret.
  • Balanced Harem: As Vanessa notes, Louise could cook, she was managing Max's business affairs, and Julie was providing sex. (Max later describes them as "comforting mother, erotic companion, manager of his affairs".) Louise throws the balance off when she leaves the harem, and in their very first scene together after Louise's death Vanessa and Julie are screaming at each other and both vowing to get rid of the other. Max later tells Columbo that while three women are perfect for a harem, two are no good.
  • Beach Episode: The episode is set on Malibu and makes a lot of use of Malibu's scenic beaches.
  • Bland-Name Product: A throwaway moment has Julie offering Max a bucket of fried chicken. It's colored like a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket (white with red stripes), it uses the same typeface as KFC packaging, but it just says "fried chicken".
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Max's three women, in ascending order of age: Julie, Vanessa, Louise.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Louise's nightmares are shown in black and white, to make them look more surreal.
  • A Dog Named "Dog": Columbo at the dog show explains that his basset hound is named "Dog".
  • Flashback Nightmare: Dr. Hammer brings Columbo Louise's recordings of her nightmares. The nightmares are shown as trippy monochrome dream sequences as Louise's narration plays on the audio.
  • Instant Sedation: It takes Louise about four seconds to pass out after Max pushes the paint thinner rag onto her face.
  • Oddball in the Series: A rare example of a Columbo episode that starts off with Lt. Columbo in the first scene rather than a Villain Opening Scene. The scene, where Columbo takes his dog to a dog show, has nothing to do with anything else in the episode.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Max assumes that Louise's death will be written off as an accident while swimming, but he doesn't know he's on Columbo.
  • Polyamory: Max is living together with his ex-wife, his current wife, and his mistress. Louise makes him cioppino. After Max and Julie have both left the dinner table Vanessa ruefully says to Louise that "He'll sleep with her tonight." When Louise notes that she was his wife, Max says "You are my wife." A contemptuous Dr. Hammer snarls that Max still "demanded his privileges" of Louise.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Some fanservice when Julie the model poses for Barsini's latest painting.

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