Tune in Tonight: "Supertrain, Episode 2"
If you're wondering how many episodes it would take before Supertrain cribbed from the plot of Strangers on a Train, the answer is one. One episode. Hell, it only takes that before Supertrain cribs from its own plot, in an episode titled "And a Cup of Kindness, Too," which features another A-plot involving a hitman (and makes even less sense than the premiere episode), and a B-plot involving more awful relatives of Supertrain chairman Winfield Root making life difficult for the crew. If that's not shameless enough, it's even already recycling exterior shots, including one of Supertrain speeding past an ancient steam train. The sense of "Who gives a shit, the audience is going to be distracted by how much money we spent on this model train" is particularly strong, and I found myself wondering barely ten minutes into the episode if perhaps I've bitten off more than I can chew by committing to watch every last minute of this overpriced garbage.
And yet, I persist.
The episode opens with businessman Jack Nordhoff (Larry Linville) stopping to help a man collapsed on the floor in Grand Central Station. He's the only person who does--everyone else just looks at him with puzzlement or annoyance before ignoring him and going about their day. The man is Waldo Chase (Dick Van Dyke), who greets Jack merely asking him if he's alright with the kind of naked gratitude usually reserved for someone donating a kidney to a loved one. He buys Jack a drink, then listens to him grumble about his impending divorce from his wife, Myra. Waldo warns Jack that's he about to be taken to the cleaners, to which Jack replies "A hitman would have been cheaper." "Funny you should mention that..." Waldo says, as ominous music swells on the soundtrack. For, you see, Waldo just happens to be a hitman (which you would think isn't something a person would mention to a stranger in casual conversation), and he offers to murder Jack's soon to be ex-wife, as a reward for the kindness Jack showed him.
Not surprisingly, Jack turns down such a generous offer, and he leaves to meet Myra (Barbara Rhoads). Though their body language suggests that they're about to swoon their way into an old fashioned movie kiss, evidently they still plan to go through with their divorce, and Jack sees Myra off on Supertrain. But--oh no!--Waldo is on the train too, and calls Jack to let him know that, out of the goodness of his heart, he's going to go through with his plan to kill Myra anyway. Being that he both told Jack his name, and gave him plenty of advance notice of what he plans to do, Waldo isn't a very good hitman, but, nevertheless, Jack is spurred into action.
Action doesn't prove easy, however, when absolutely no one is interested in helping Jack save his wife's life. Even the Supertrain crew can't be bothered, blowing off Jack's pleas for assistance. Now, considering the maiden journey of Supertrain had a hitman on board, and four people ended up being violently killed, you'd think they'd take such warnings more seriously. Alas, no, they're much too busy: conductor Harry (Edward Andrews) has to occasionally bellow at other crew members, while "social director" Dave (Patrick Collins), the crew ladies' man (and the human equivalent of non-dairy dessert topping, bland, white, and disappointing) is preoccupied with flirting with the female passengers.
Meanwhile, in the excruciating B-plot, Winfield Root's horrid great-grandchildren, neither of them older than nine and inexplicably traveling across the country without a parent or nanny to look after them, wreak havoc on the crew, playing a series of increasingly worrisome "pranks," including nearly setting fire to Supertrain's resident fitness instructor. Setting fires is usually the sign of a budding psychopath, but here it's played as wacky slapstick comedy, a real "Kids, amirite?" moment to balance out the suspense of the A-plot.
Back at the A-plot, Waldo immediately moves in on Myra, charming her with his grim proclamations of how "the pioneer spirit is dead...people don't know how to live with each other anymore." The kind of hitman who also gives marital advice, he tells Myra that she should try to work things out with Jack by playing hard to get, including refusing to take his calls. Later, however, he abruptly changes course and says that she shouldn't try to work things out with him after all. Myra takes everything Waldo, a man she's known for approximately an hour, says with blank faced acceptance, and is soon slow dancing with him and accepting his gift of a skimpy bikini.
Unable to reach Myra by phone, and with absolutely no one willing to give him even the slightest bit of assistance, Jack makes a mad dash to catch Supertrain by the time it reaches Chicago. This involves him calling in a phony hijacking report (!!!!), which somehow allows him to board a plane he was earlier told had already left the airport (because apparently hijacking reports can be resolved in less than a half hour). Evidently passing through a rip in the time-space continuum, the plane manages to make it from New York to Chicago in time for Jack to get there ahead of Supertrain's arrival.
After an attempt to drown Myra fails, Waldo brings her a glass of what we assume is poisoned warm milk, and believe me when I tell you that Dick Van Dyke menacingly walking towards a camera while holding a glass of milk, as more ominous music plays on the soundtrack, is the funniest thing you'll watch this year. But have no fear, this all turns out to be an elaborate ploy to get Jack and Myra back together, as repayment to Jack for exhibiting basic human decency. It's never quite clear whether Waldo really did mean to do Myra harm, but it doesn't matter--his scheme is an immediate success. "I hear California's nice this time of year...for second honeymoons," Waldo says with a knowing grin, leaving the newly reunited couple to fall into each other's arms in a passionate embrace without a second thought, not even "Well, that was fucking weird."
When next we see Waldo, he's back on his bullshit, laying on the floor in a different train station, and about to show gratitude to another poor sap who's just being nice, presumably by burning down his place of employment so he can finally pursue that painting career he's always wanted.
Do you really care about what happens to Winfield Root's shitty grandkids? You don't, so I'm not even going to bother telling you how their plot is resolved, but if you guessed that Supertrain's crew turns the prank playing tables on them, you pretty much have it figured out.
I'm not going to try to parse such an idiotic plot, though if you want to have a go at explaining how showing someone gratitude by terrorizing them makes sense, let alone what Dick Van Dyke's end game is in psychologically torturing gullible Good Samaritans, or even what the audience is ultimately supposed to think of him, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter. Instead, I will reiterate two of Supertrain's most pressing issues, both of which are displayed in full force in this episode. As mentioned numerous times, there's simply no way to make train travel seem either fancy or exciting, no matter how many hair salons or piano bars it has on board. There was never a time when train travel was considered glamorous--it was simply a step up from sitting in a horse-drawn wagon for weeks at a time. To suggest that the idle rich would choose it over taking a plane is ludicrous--big deal, you can go shopping on Supertrain, you can do it in Los Angeles too, after arriving a day earlier.
The show also suffers from a dearth of likable characters, which is a puzzling issue in a television show based around the travel and hospitality industry. Dave, Supertrain's social director, and ostensibly the crew member working most closely with the passengers, makes Larry on Three's Company seem like Mr. Roark, and the running gag of his inability to stop himself from hitting on both the female guests, and his co-workers, wears thin about halfway through the first episode. Then we have conductor Harry, who takes his job perhaps a little too seriously, to the point of all but prostrating before the great Winfield Root. "Supertrain waits for no one," Harry haughtily informs Jack over the phone, as if he's the captain of the Concorde, rather than conductor of a disco train. If Harry's devotion to the Supertrain brand was played for laughs, it might be okay, but it's safe to assume that it's meant to enhance Supertrain's luxury image. The audience is supposed to think of course Supertrain doesn't have time to wait for some plebe who probably can't afford a ticket, while they watch in awe and look forward to the day they can take a trip on something so extravagant that the staff can be assholes to people for no reason. That's how you know you've made it, after all.
Original airdate: February 14, 1979