Ordinarily mystery episodes tend to fall into two categories. Either they’re intense and scary like The Case of the Secret Room, or they’re funny and light-hearted like Heatwave. Mystery shows focusing on rumors can go either way, with the episode Rumor Has It being very dark, while Curious, Isn’t It? is a fun story. What’s similar about those two rumor episodes is that neither of them is very realistic. In the first the kids accuse a man of being a drug-dealing terrorist who does weird science experiments on the side, and in the second the entire town is somehow duped into believing Mr. Whittaker is getting married and no one even bothers to ask him. What Happened to the Silver Streak? is totally different. It can’t easily be categorized as scary or funny. And not only does it introduce a believable rumor, unlike those other shows, it also ends up being true. It’s a twist which doesn’t fit the predictable ending you might have expected. But in hindsight it makes perfect sense and is more satisfying than any alternative. This episode’s hard truths reveal Odyssey to be a realistic place where not every story has a happy ending.
The last time we heard about the Whit’s End train set was in the episode Ice Fishing. In that show Jenny creates a magnificent model train, just like Traci’s train engine which she describes as “perfect in every detail.” Monty produces a vastly inferior model train in comparison (Connie even implies it belongs in the trash), but at least he doesn’t try to destroy Jenny’s work out of revenge. That wouldn’t have fit his character. But it fits the character of Michelle Terry just fine. Michelle is a strong personality, being both well-written and well-acted. Every line she says tells us a lot about her. That’s why it’s unfortunate that this episode tells us so much about Michelle via clunky second-hand exposition instead of letting us learn about her for ourselves. In a conversation between Doreen Charles and Mr. Whittaker, Doreen reveals that Michelle has a bad reputation and explains that she went to juvenile hall, even though it’s clear Whit already knows all of this. Then Whit says, “She’s not at juvenile hall anymore. She’s at your halfway house now.” As if Doreen didn’t already know that. It’s a good thing Whit reminded her. Doreen also feels compelled to make clear to the audience that Michelle has an attitude problem and is hesitant to trust people. For being such a strong character, it’s a pity Michelle Terry doesn’t get more airtime. She could have improved this episode a lot if she was around more and developed her friendship with Traci.
Speaking of Traci Needlemeyer, this is technically her second episode, although it’s pushed back to Album 9 while her third show The Winning Edge is placed in Album 8. The bad experience she has in What Happened to the Silver Streak? helps to explain why she later turns mean and gets overly competitive while playing baseball in her third episode. It’s also interesting to note that Traci never appears with the same friend twice. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on the fact that Michelle is the new girl who is having trouble finding friends, but it’s possible Traci has a similar problem keeping friends, which makes Michelle’s deception all the more painful. This time Traci teams up with Curt Stevens, who is also progressing as a character. He first tried to be a newspaper reporter, then a politician, and now he’s playing detective. This nicely foreshadows his part in solving the mystery of the poisoned creek in the episode One Bad Apple, which aired after this one but was released on Album 7. When the Silver Streak goes missing both Curt and Traci jump to the conclusion that it’s been stolen, which is similar to Eugene and Connie in Suspicious Minds. But as I mentioned before, this episode flips the usual script on its head and all of the kids’ conclusions turn out to be proven right in the end.
The actual mystery investigation is a weak point in this story. Unlike other Odyssey adventures, the most dramatic moment this episode can muster is a failed attempt to chase down a garbage truck. Fun stuff. Overall it isn’t very interesting, especially since Curt discovers the crucial piece of information about Michelle’s past off-air. He enters Whit’s End and announces that Michelle Terry was in juvenile hall for shoplifting on multiple occasions. How did he discover this? Apparently it doesn’t matter because we never find out. The next bit of information they find is that Michelle knew about the model train display at the state fair, and therefore had a motive to steal Traci’s Silver Streak. Curt declares Michelle the “prime suspect.” But then here comes the big piece of evidence that changes everything. They find a set of train wheels next to the dumpster. And this somehow proves it was Connie, not Michelle? Since Michelle helped Connie with the clean-up of the train room, I don’t see that as a strong point. Either could still be responsible. The big reveal at the end of the investigation is also done in a strange way. Speaking about the train wheels, Michelle says, “Good thing they fell on the ground.” Somehow this alerts Mr. Whittaker to the fact that Michelle is guilty because she couldn’t have known the wheels had fallen on the ground. Whit says the wheels could have been in the dumpster for all she knew. But does that really make sense when they just told Michelle that the garbage truck emptied the dumpster? If the wheels had been lying in there, they would have been gone before the gang at Whit’s End ever found them. Michelle saying the wheels fell on the ground could have been passed off as a logical guess rather than proof of her guilt.
But despite the bizarre, circumstantial evidence which this episode relies on instead of delivering a real investigation, Michelle’s confession and the subsequent heartfelt conversation between Connie and Whit are still powerful moments. You can tell Whit feels deeply hurt, and yet Michelle is defiant and snaps back, saying, “Welcome to the real world.” It shouldn’t be a jolt just to Whit but to the audience as well. All this time we wanted to believe Michelle was wrongly accused for a crime she didn’t commit. But then she turns around and gives us all a dose of reality, showing herself to be cold and calculated. As a goodbye, she calls her time at Whit’s End “one big bore,” a final slap in the face to everything Whit has been trying to accomplish in Odyssey. The final scene with Whit and Connie is equally good. It’s sad, yes, but it’s genuine. Whit says, “You try to make a place where kids can get away from the real world, but the real world just keeps slipping in.” It’s a hard situation and, unlike the easy ending that could have been in its place, this ending rings true. Even the people of Odyssey come to the end of their rope. But when they do, Whit reminds us that is the perfect time to turn to God in prayer. It’s a surprisingly strong finish for an episode which is otherwise average. It gets 3 out of 5 stars.