Season Two: Exploring ROCK AND ROLL EXPRESS



    I won’t try and pretend here - this is one of my all time favourite Jem episodes. It has humour, good character clues and even if the plot has a few weaknesses, it is a fast moving story that has plenty to comment on. R&R Express is one of the superior episodes from the 1987 season and features some pretty decent Misfit interplay, proving once again that there’s more to them than 2 dimensional cold villains each in it for themselves.

    This is one of my pet theories about the British Misfit - one of her key weaknesses (like Roxy’s fear of heights, Stormer’s fear of big cats) is her fear of enclosed spaces. No episode shows this quite as well as this one. In the scene after the food fight, when Rio locks the Misfits in the observation car to keep them out of trouble, Jetta displays some highly unusual behaviour. Firstly, when she realises they are locked in, she panics, banging wildly on the door and screaming “Hey, yank bully, let us out!". Highly unusual behaviour for the usually unruffled Jetta, who even during the difficult spots in Britrock tends to keep her cool. Then, whilst Roxy is talking about how cool the observation car is, Jetta is pacing up and down, searching for a way to escape. It is Jetta who suggests they climb out onto the roof - as annoyed as the other Misfits are, they seem quite content to stay and see the view. Stormer even questions whether or not it’s a good idea to climb out onto the roof - an impulsive and harebrained decision which, once again, is highly uncharacteristic of Jetta and her usual slick methods. It is pretty clear from the moment Jetta first comes into the equation that she is not a reckless Misfit - unlike both Roxy and Pizzazz, who usually think things through after they've already done them, if they bother at all! The only explanation for her out of character behaviour is that she is afraid, and doing her best to cover up that fear by proposing something that (in her mind!) is less frightening!
    Okay, Jetta ;) Guess vertigo isn't one of your phobias, then! And interestingly, though later we see that Jetta dislikes boats, she is not afraid of diving into the water. So it can be assumed that it is the boat and not the water which is Jetta's other phobia, and that the girl can swim. (Unless this is a blip, see conclusion).

    This really is an episode for this. The first thing that comes to mind is the sabotage of the instruments when the Holograms arrive in (if memory serves) Mesaville, New Mexico. Rio gives Ashley an order to set up the instruments, disappears for a few minutes and Ashley, all bored, decides to go off on her own. (Incidentally, why Ashley and any Starlights are on the tour is beyond me. Maybe it is summer holidays and school is out - but leaving these teenagers to their own devices on a train journey across America is NOT my idea of sensible childcare!) Rio immediately jumps to the conclusion that Ashley sabotaged the instruments, I quote "out of spite". This is a ludicrous suggestion (as Jem rightly tells him) because first of all Ashley did not throw any kind of tantrum at Rio, or even complain in his presence about helping. True, she took off and left the instruments unguarded, but she's a kid and kids do get easily bored when they are forced to work in their holiday time! And then, of course, with the Misfits on board, why immediately jump on Ashley? It makes me wonder if we have a brief flashback in Rio's twisted head to Truly Outrageous and the fact that Ashley caused trouble for Jem and the Holograms once before. But he would have to have a very long memory and I can't think of anything else which happens in the series which might make Rio dislike Ashley. Yet making such an accusation suggests he DOES dislike Ashley. Or maybe he just resents having Starlight girls to help him as much as Ashley obviously resents having to do it! Part of me wonders if blaming Ashley for the sabotage is Rio covering his own back. He left Ashley with the equipment and he knew that she took off. As road manager, it is his responsibility to keep an eye on this stuff and ensure everything goes smoothly. If he can blame it on Ashley, then noone will know that he just walked away and left the equipment unguarded. And accusing her to have done it "out of spite"...I can only assume that he judges her by his own base standards! :)
    Second conclusion to be jumped to is also Rio's. After the guard is poisoned in Grand Canyon, Rio contacts the security company and asks them to send them a new guard. But in Mesaville, when the thief joins them in the guard's outfit, Rio jumps to the conclusion that this must be the new guard. He doesn't think to ask for paperwork and actually, if the train hadn't run out of control, this thief would probably have made off with all of the money long before Rio managed to work out that something fishy was going on! Inadvertently, therefore, maybe the Misfits did Jem and co a favour (though I doubt any one of them would admit to it!)
    And conclusion number three - Rio's assumption that the girls cannot possibly manage without him. This is a pretty damning review of Rio for this episode, but seriously, he really deserves it. He's not always such a complete dolt, but what on earth possessed him to steal a motorbike and chase after a runaway train just in order to tell the Holograms to pull the emergency brake? And, more to the point, why did five grown women not think to do it themselves? This is definitely a plot weakness, but it does make Rio look rather a buffoon...

    Oh, these girls are cute. No way around it - the food fight in the dining car is one of the funniest Misfit scenes in the whole series. But it's more than just humourous, it also gives us a glimpse into real Misfit interaction on a day to day basis. Breaking down the food fight into it's componant parts, there are a number of things you can discover from it. Firstly, Jetta flips potato at Roxy. Jetta and Roxy's sparring by this time is all too familiar. Pizzazz laughs, Roxy gets mad and flips the potato at Pizzazz. Two key notes - one, Roxy doesn't want to waste any of her food by tossing it across the table (! Roxy and her food penchants are also well known!) and two, Pizzazz usually sides with Jetta, and not Roxy. Pizzazz then gets involved with the foodfight, and entirely unprovoked, Stormer launches food in Pizzazz's direction. Key notes here - Stormer almost always sides with Roxy. This two-on-two Misfit interaction is something I've tackled in more detail in the character biographies!!
    We are reminded of Roxy and Jetta's bitter rivalry once again after the incident with the train and the lake. Roxy's first words, after getting herself out of the water is "this is all your fault, Jetta!" And she isn't wrong, since Jetta started the foodfight and it was Jetta's idea to climb out onto the roof. Pizzazz response is revealing also - she simply says "shut up, you two!" - as if she's used to doing this on a regular basis!
    And once Pizzazz uses her wiles to get them help from locals on horseback, it's interesting to note that the girls stay together throughout their ride to return to the train. It is only at the train that they start vying to be the first aboard, and interestingly enough it's Raya (yes, gullible old Raya again, poor Raya) who lets them back aboard. Had she not done that, well, it's safe to say that the train would not have gone out of control!
    The final piece of Misfit interplay is just as classic as the food fight. More Roxy and Jetta banter here, as well, which is great continuity from Talent Search. But it also reveals something else - this episode shows something that none of the prior ones do. Jetta has weaknesses. Her first fear is with the observation car, but, though she talks tough, she is not as tough as Roxy. She gets her boot caught in one of the train's levers, and, well, to be blunt, whines about her poor hurt foot for as long as it takes to get her released! This is all to Roxy's clear amusement, however..."Ah, just yank it out!" is her sympathetic comment ;)
    The final thing of note in this episode is that it's Stormer who gives up the Misfits' actions to Jem and the Holograms. It's key because it makes you remember that she and Kimber have a certain amount of friendship after Bands Break Up, and all through the episode Stormer has been unsure about some of the things the Misfits have been doing to upset the Holograms' tour. It is, interestingly, Kimber who asks the question "What are you Misfits doing up here?" And it's Stormer who answers, in the voice of a sheepish friend..."It was supposed to be a joke." Apparently this is the last straw, but you wonder if a strand of that friendship does hold good, since the Misfits are kicked off the train (but in civilisation, not in the desert) and even though the thief is arrested, nothing is done to the Misfits for their part in the near-disaster.

    I have one bugbear with this episode, aside from Rio's buffoonery. (Is that a word? Well, now it is!). That is, with all the consistencies and continuities this episode manages to remember, it has one fatal mistake. After the Misfits jump from the train, they dive into a lake and swim to shore. But, though Roxy and Pizzazz are proven to be good swimmers on a couple of occasions, Stormer cannot swim (according to Island of Deception). To have her swimming so fluently and so soon is a definite plot blip - or possibly an animation blip - but either way Stormer should not swim to shore. Jetta also swims here, but it's impossible to know whether she is supposed to be a decent swimmer or not because we never see her do it again.
    But for humour content, this episode definitely rates :)

    Episode rating: 8.5/10.


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