Why Columbo is a secretly terrifying character

Ahh Columbo, that iconic show that I’ve only seen one full episode of and yet already I’m hooked by the brilliance of the writing style, the often fantastic cast and, of course, Peter Falk as Columbo. Is he not the greatest character in all of crime fiction? He’s certainly one of the most likable, swooping in at the last minute and solving the case while our wealthy/celebrity killer is dragged away. Surely he is the friendliest and most welcoming fictional sleuth in tv?

OR IS HE!!!????!!!

Well, let’s think about this. Firstly I’m gonna look at the obvious, each episode is from the killer’s point of view, they are the main character. It’s possibly the only show that removes the whodunnit and yet manages to make it more suspenseful. You know Columbo’s gonna get them but you don’t know when and, up until the climax, there is never any inclination that he has any inkling whatsoever (of course he does) Aside from being a freaking awesome plot point, it also raises some big issues. Firstly (this is the obvious point) Columbo is technically the villain. Yeah I know he’s a cop and yes he is the good guy in the grand scheme of things, but in the show we are forced on the side of the villain. If we were looking at it from Columbo’s point of view then we would be rooting for him because we never followed the killer on their journey which led them to murder. We can sympathize with them in the series whereas Columbo is just a relativly mysterious character whose a threat to the killer. For that reason we are, at the very least, forced to see Columbo as the enemy. Secondly, We know everything about the killer and yet Columbo is a bit of an enigma. I mean think about it.

What do we really know about this character??

Ok so he’s a lieutenant in the police force who wears a raincoat, has a glass eye and drives a pretty beaten up car, but hears a question for you, what’s his first name? What’s his wife’s name? How old is he? When did he join the force? What are his hobbies? We know next to nothing about Columbo. He constantly references his cousin in Texas or his brother in New Jersey but we never see them and each episode his family tree grows by at least one person. Ok so, he does drop facts about his life; his childhood, hobbies etc but how do we know he’s telling the truth? The format of the series means that we almost always see it from the villains point of view and whilst there is a slight shift the focus of the episode is always the killer. Columbo may just be dropping hints about his life to fit in with his facade of idiocy, making the other characters less wary of him, and his points all seem to have a point. I think Columbo is only saying these things about his life to reinforce the idea of him being either a little foolish or as a fan of the suspect (which he often is) In fact Mrs Columbo is often brought into the episode, Columbo often remarks that his wife is a fan or that she collects the product or memorabilia of the suspect. So, in fact, we have no idea how much we know about Columbo is actually true. His family tree is huge, he always seem to know the right people, he could just be mentioning his private life because of his facade of foolishness and seemingly everything he does has a point, meaning that he may being lying constantly. Columbo is an enigma, everything we know about him may be wrong and that makes him terrifying.


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