The Greatest American Hero “The Hit Car” (part 8 of 9)
Ralph then walks through the whole setup: Johnny got Starlet to call Bill. She made up the stuff about the astral charts, not flying, having to stop in Santa Barbara, and so on. Bill listens to him, and then goes, “Noooo. Uh—no. No, nuh-uh. [pause] [whistles] Hello. [pause] Ain’t that something.” Which? Is actually a pretty neat way to show a relentlessly stubborn guy realigning what he thinks he knows.
What’s funny is that Bill’s “huh, go figure” reaction to the hit on him causes Ralph to blow a gasket, because Bill doesn’t know what he’s doing, and Ralph’s been running around like a freak for nothing. But Bill, in his inimitable hard-boiled Billspeak, skewers his tantrum with, “You’re plucked because the cupcake turned out to be a wrong number, and she was putting you on, too!”
Ralph, in turn, admits that he’s angry because he doesn’t like seeing Bill “dressed up like Lon Chaney in The Mummy’s Tomb”, and frustrated because he can’t use the suit properly.
For those wondering just how Greatest American Hero got off the ground, this is an instructive scene. This is the heart of the show, right here: the combative relationship between these two contrasting men who both want the same thing, for the suit to be used to do some good in the world. And there’s something very raw and exposed about this relationship, something you don’t see in the slicker types of buddy-cop formula shows. I think a lot of this has to do with Robert Culp’s off-the-cuff acting style. You can see onscreen the way Culp’s ad libs and unpredictable mannerisms force William Katt to keep pace with his partner and rise to the occasion. In his conversations with Bill, Ralph has an edge and a level of engagement you don’t always see in other contexts on the show, and this lends a note of credibility to the show’s central relationship.
In the car, Ralph follows up on earlier complaints that Bill gets off on telling him what to do, and doesn’t listen to what his partner has to say. Bill essentially says he doesn’t believe in partners. Man, those aliens picked just the right guys for this job, didn’t they?
Bill, apparently needing to just get away from Ralph’s “yammering”, pulls over, saying he needs to get some cigars. But unknown to Ralph, he’s actually heading into an Italian restaurant, which is also Johnny the Dancer’s hangout. Because, you know, they’re mobsters. Which means… spaghetti. And also, cryptic series finales.
It’s three or four in the afternoon, so the restaurant is empty except for Johnny (boasting about how good he looks in his tuxedo), Creepy Thin Guy, and Starlet. She’s apologizing because she “couldn’t do it”—you know, “it”. This appears to be the episode’s only allusion to the possibility that Starlet had ample opportunity to kill Bill herself, though it’s hard to see how she could have avoided being a suspect afterwards. But really, the line is unexplained and inexplicable. Just like the script itself.
Bill limps up and he’s all, “Hey, the gang’s all here,” half chanting the words over and over as he covers the distance to Johnny’s table. He pulls a gun on Johnny and they stare at each other. Okay, this is useful. Bill clears his throat. Nothing happens. I’m half expecting a title card that says ”Three years later”, followed by a shot of them still staring at each other.
Bill upends a plate of spaghetti onto Johnny’s lovely new tux with the yellow piping, which we know is the one thing that’ll really make this idiot angry. Creepy Thin Guy crosses his arms, but Bill tells him to freeze without looking at him, takes a drink of wine, and pours the rest in Johnny’s lap. Okay, Bill, I think we can go ahead and say, on Johnny’s behalf, message received. Sure enough, as soon as Bill stumbles out, Johnny swears he’s going to kill Bill himself.
Bill gets Ralph to scoot over and drive, noticing a big lime green panel truck pull up to the intersection behind them (which earns an ominous sting on the soundtrack). As soon as they pull out, Ralph starts up again with his relentless rabbiting on about how Bill never tells him anything. (Ah, dramatic irony!)
Bill: [not listening, watching the green truck in the side mirror] Sure I do!
Ralph: No, you don’t! I mean, you give me this need-to-know, government security Vaseline job.
Christ, is this whole episode written in code? Though at least he’s improved his choice of lubricants from that earlier “pass the jam” analogy.
Bill interrupts Ralph’s ranting to ask where he’s driving, which turns out to be Ralph’s school. Bill says, “That’ll work,” and then proceeds to tune Ralph out again as he goes on complaining.
Okay, so the deal here is, Bill knows they’re headed for a shoot-out with the hit car. Not only does he not tell Ralph, who whether Bill wants to admit it or not is his partner, but he also decides that Ralph’s high school is the perfect place for the firefight to go down.
So what you’d take away from this scene, knowing nothing else about Bill, is that he doesn’t give a fuck if Ralph and a slew of teenagers get mowed down, as long as he resolves his personal vendetta. Where does Bill do his target practice, at the dog run?