Columbo | Sex and the Married Detective (Season 8, Ep. 3)


Sex and the Married Detective embroils Columbo in the world of psycho-sexual healing – and a less than loving murder.


When she spies her lover cheating on her, renowned sex therapist Dr Joan Allenby (Lindsay Crouse) keeps schtum about it.

Instead, she sets-up an alibi at a high-profile charity gala … where she tapes her clothes under a sink in the ladies’ toilets and slips out in disguise.

Then as high-class prostitute “Lisa”, Joan meets lover David Kincaid for what he thinks is consensual role-play. She lures him back to the office – and shoots him.

The title may be a riff on 1964 book Sex and the Married Man: a Married Man Talks to his Psychiatrist. The episode’s subtext seems to be that the psychiatrists are less stable than their patients …

Sex and the Married Detective: the spoiler

As with Columbo goes to College, a key piece of the puzzle is teased early in the episode. Here, it’s a camel-haired coat that Allenby buys in Chicago and brings back to L.A, dropping it on a coat stand in a blink-or-miss-it moment.

When Columbo meets her at the crime scene, he spots the coat still has its tag. Later, he ties her Chicago spending to the crime:

  • He retrieves a cheque for $1,500 in cash. Allenby refuses to say what this was for, but Columbo already knows it was to buy her “Lisa” disguise.
  • The saleswoman who sold Allenby the black suit and Fedora remembers the rare sale. And she recognises Allenby from a police photo.

There’s also the problem of Allenby’s book, The Courtesan Complex. Allenby tells Columbo a courtesan is a successful prostitute – but this unwittingly creates a connection for Columbo between Lisa and Allenby (see also Murder by the Book).

This episode reveals Columbo plays the tuba. While it’s one of a number of fillers in this episode, it fits with his disguise as the fool-genius who knows more than he lets on.

Just one more thing…

While Columbo always zeroes in on the murderer in minutes, it’s likely he suspects Allenby before meeting her. Despite playing things cool, Allenby makes a number of rash mistakes:

  • She stages the murder to look like a jilted woman’s revenge – which it is – but the planted evidence contains too many blood types
  • Cigarophile Columbo spots there isn’t enough ash in the ashtray (Allenby breaks a cigarette in half instead of letting it smoke down).
  • Allenby uses her own keys to get into the therapy room on the night of the murder, then takes them with her.

Columbo explains the problem of the missing key to Allenby, hinting how much he already suspects:

“if that was true, you’d certainly have some idea who she might be.”

And so she does, because Allenby is Lisa.

As is a hallmark of the series, the suspect and Columbo dance around each other in a series of games. Lisa leaves Columbo taunting messages. Columbo teases Allenby about whether she can recognise Lisa … a psychological impossibility because they’re the same person.

In fact, Lisa isn’t a disguise so much as Allenby’s alter ego. The facade is her exact opposite: black haired Vs blonde, sexily dressed Vs professional, and – in Allenby’s words – strong woman Vs victim. We see this acted out explicitly when Allenby talks to herself in a mirror as Lisa / herself.

Also of note

Sex and the Married Detective nudges Columbo out of his comfort zone. Well, supposedly – the world of the sex therapist seems shockingly unerotic here. Or perhaps I’ve spent too much time online.

In any case, the classic Columbo reversal duly follows. Columbo usually cries phobia to begin with (sea sickness, surgery … sexy talk) only to overcome said terrors by the end as is convenient.

Here, he devours Allenby’s book, dives into a murder-scene sex bed, and tries to eavesdrop on a therapy group. Arguably these clumsy interludes are meant to enforce his persona as untouched by the dark world he deals with.

As for the supposedly libertine Allenby, the final twist reveals her true motivations. While it looks like she kills Kincaid for infidelity, it’s retribution for belittling her. Her last words to him before the murder play back his joke: “If I were a dessert, what dessert would I be?”

Cue the death by chocolate …

Sex and the Married Detective (1989), directed by James Frawley

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