Near the end of "Prescription: Murder" there is a great scene in Dr. Fleming's office, where Columbo convinces Fleming to analyze him. During their conversation, Fleming refers to Columbo as "droll". The dialogue and exchange between Peter Falk and Gene Barry makes for (in my opinion) one of the best scenes in the entire series.
I think what I enjoyed so much about this episode is Columbo's demeanor throughout the show. He is sort of droll - much more measured than in later episodes. I've wondered about the reason behind the change. He still bumbles on about his wife and the brother-in-law ("I figure the table got to him a long time ago") but the delivery is so much more effective. I watched "Ransom for A Dead Man" right after this and the transformation is strikingly quick. Columbo is fumbling about outside looking for his pen and then holds his hands behind his back and nods at everybody and even gets out a "Thank you very much" within the first minute of being in the house. Such a contrast between the calm, almost calculating persona in Dr. Fleming's apartment. Even the brown shoes make him seem more relaxed and "droll". He still looks for the pencil and breaks out his well-worn bag of tricks, but I like the delivery so much better.
Wondering what everyone else's thoughts are.
P.S. As an aside, I've always thought Gene Barry would have made a great repeat killer in later episodes.
I agree this is of the best scenes in the series, and it really helps the episode be one of the best, IMO.
I also think the scene where Columbo gets angry with Joan Hudson is a defining moment. Often maligned as behavior of the character that was abandoned, I like to think of it as a character that evolved in later episodes. The outburst at Dr. Mayfield and the scene with Dr. Borden in a Deadly State of Mind, for example, reveal that part of Columbo that aligns with the “Hey, I’m not messing around” aspect of his personality as it drives his profession.
The whole episode has a fresh-out-of-the-box spirit. Sure, the Columbo character will be honed by Falk as the series progresses (even overwrought at times in later years) but this pilot is in a class of its own. As has been pointed out, check out Falk and Natalie Wood in Penelope – the baseball-bubblegum scene – for more of the good, early stuff.