It is Christmas and Los Angeles private investigator/helicopter pilot Nick Ryder (Joe Penny) is feeling sick and irritable. He never much liked the holiday season anyway. Out of frustration his detective agency partners/best friends/roomies Cody Allen (Perry King) and Murray Bozinsky (Thom Bray) are getting ready to ask their moping buddy to walk the plank.
Nick gets a phone call from the Army Reserve who have an urgent assignment for Uncle Sam they want him to do. Unmarried and without his services engaged in professional matters he looks at it as the perfect opportunity to forget the holidays and fulfill a duty he is honored to do particularly given that a soldier with a family might otherwise have been made to do the job. He is given the responsibility of escorting the body of a deceased soldier home to Wyoming and co-ordinating an honor guard for the man's funeral. Cody and Murray are happy to see him off the boat for awhile.
Alone and melancholy on the long transport flight from Fort Tucker, Nick takes time to brood. He is unprepared when evidence suggests that the body in the casket he has accompanied is not who it is supposed to be. Having met the soldier's inconsolable father Ben Wilkinson (James Whitmore Sr.), Nick struggles with having to sort out what has happened and to handle Ben who has become convinced his son is still alive even though the chance is slim. Ben is a proud but kind man whom Nick has quickly come to admire.
Cody and Murray do their level best to help matters. They were in the army too and, like countless servicemen, still have unresolved feelings about their time in combat and feel loyalty to their fellow soldiers. But confronted with a criminal conspiracy involving elements of the army a more personal nerve is hit. As fans of the series know, it was a bizarre plot within the military was what brought the three detectives together years earlier. These disappointed patriots are particularly irked when the army is used for selfish ends by twisted individuals.
If there was a show that never needed a Christmas episode it was Riptide. Cody muses that it is 80 degrees outside their boat at the Los Angeles area King Harbor Marina which doesn't exactly suggest the climate the season is associated with. Around Christmas, Riptide and other shows set in warmer climates were like a visual vacation from the cold for those of us who lived north. Setting an episode elsewhere was counter intuitive.
An uncharacteristically serious, even bleak at times, entry like this one was a huge departure for this series. In fact, aside from the opening montage and a few scenes it doesn't even look like a Riptide episode. But none of that should detract from its value. The story and teleplay made from it are both solid and James Whitmore Sr. (His son directed this episode) was as good an actor as they ever brought in to guest star.
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