SpongeBob goes into the Krusty Krab freezer to find that they have run out of Krabby Patties. He and Mr. Krabs try to make more, but cannot remember the recipe. Mr. Krabs gives SpongeBob the key to the vault in which the recipe is hidden, and he and Patrick board a train to the bank for the safety deposit box. Sometime during the ride, the key to the box is stolen and SpongeBob and Patrick must find the thief. Just then, Plankton walks up and Patrick searches him, but finds him clean. The duo stops the train to find the suspect responsible for stealing the key. A nanny and her baby were searched, only to find a stolen jewel that was stolen by triplets. The next suspect, the butler, is now revealed to be a thief named Orin J. Ruffy, who stole $75,000 worth of ham sandwiches. SpongeBob cries hopelessly but soon finds Patrick having the key; in fact, he found it while he cleaned SpongeBob's shorts. They head back into the train and are on their way to the bank. Eventually, Plankton bats them out of a window and the best friends must chase the train. It is revealed that Plankton has the key. As SpongeBob morphs himself into a hang glider, he and Patrick fly back onto the train to pursue him. Once they return, SpongeBob and Patrick chase Plankton through the caboose, the coaches, the tender, and the engine before Plankton disconnects the coal tender, coaches, and caboose of the train from the engine, leaving SpongeBob and Patrick in the engine's cabin. As SpongeBob and Patrick try to stop the train, Patrick stupidly breaks the brake (of the train) causing the train to go out of control. He makes several weird, futile attempts to stop the train, one of which is to put a heavy object on the tracks. This only causes the train to flip and move forward while some of the wheels were off the track. The two manage to bring all wheels back in place when they stop in front of a retirement home. Then, Patrick stupidly breaks the throttle, which he thought said "BREAK." Meanwhile, as Plankton is caught trying to steal the formula by Mr. Krabs, he still escapes with it, until the train comes into the bank and stops Plankton before he can leave. However, Plankton's plan fails again, while Mr. Krabs has to pay the damage to the bank with his bank account. 75 years later, Elderly SpongeBob finishes the story of the "Great Train Caper." His grandson responds with a cheer in excitement over his video game.
As of August 19, 2016, The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) gives this episode a rating of 7.1/10 based on 79 ratings by users. TV.com users give this episode a 7.8/10 based on 4 votes.
When this episode aired on November 11, 2010, it gained an audience of 6.6 million viewers and the most watched non-sports broadcast on cable for the week of November 14, and second overall only to a Monday Night Football game between the Steelers and the Bengals. It was the most viewed episode in a year after "Truth or Square."
The original name for this episode was "Krabby Patty No More," as seen on some of the original character storyboards on Facebook.
Even though the amount of viewers of this episode were very high, even after the premiere, some fans were disappointed due to the fact that out of all the suspects that SpongeBob and Patrick accused, Plankton was the culprit because of the fact that he is the main antagonist of the series.
This episode is also known as "Mystery With a Twistery."
On one of the original storyboards, Patrick says the same line "Don’t touch me, I’m sterile!" from the episode "Suds." Click here to take a look at the storyboard.
This is said to be the first ever SpongeBob mystery even though "Patty Caper" was also a mystery. This may be why it says "the first ever SpongeBob mystery special" in a later commercial.
In this episode, it is revealed that some of the Krabby Patty formula ingredients are flour, barnacle shavings, and either salt or turmeric (Mr. Krabs and SpongeBob couldn't agree which).
This episode premiered first in Latin America and in Brazil, on October 14.
There are 3 shorts for this episode. The episode can be downloaded on iTunes and comes with these shorts.
When Plankton says "Oh, now they're on time!" it may be a reference to "One Coarse Meal" when he was waiting for the bus to hit him.
This is the second time someone says the line "Cops! I need you!" In this episode, it was said by Patrick. The first time was in the episode "Banned in Bikini Bottom" where the line was said by Plankton.
One of the reasons that SpongeBob and Mr. Krabs fought about which was the correct way to make the Krabby Patty may have been so that fans didn't know which was the correct formula.
At the end of the episode, it is evident that the "Shelly Superhighway" is still intact, therefore in this re-imagining of the future in Bikini Bottom, it is likely to be assumed that SpongeBob was somehow unable to stop the creation of the highway itself. This can possibly be viewed as an Alternate Timeline, as the events playout as the exact opposite of how it actually did happen in the episode "SpongeBob's Last Stand."
The part where the train engine leaves the rails and crashes into the bank without its tender was possibly referenced from the Thomas and Friends episode Gordon Takes a Tumble, where Gordon loses his tender and crashes through a barn after derailing.
Mr. Krabs makes up the excuse that "[He's] late for a very important meeting," a reference to a song from the Disney animated film Alice in Wonderland.
When the train is stopped and SpongeBob is questioning some of the suspects, he asks them "where were you on the night of January 16th?" This is a reference to the courtroom drama play The Night of January 16th, where said question was asked to the witnesses.
The last scene of this episode is inspired by the Arthur episode "The Curse of the Grebes" where Buster, who is a grandpa, tells his gran-kids the story about the Grebes winning again.
The number of passenger cars keeps changing throughout the episode.
When Patrick gets knocked over at the lemonade stand, his mouth is closed while he is talking.
When SpongeBob and Patrick were chasing Plankton, they pass Nat Peterson who is asleep on the train, but when they call for help, Nat is at the Emergency station, even though he was supposedly on the train.
When Mr. Krabs was banging his head on the wall, his lips do not move when he says "it."
When the runaway train engine goes through the tunnel, it flips around when it comes out to the other side.
When SpongeBob and Patrick look for Plankton in the train (before luggage was dumped on their heads), the people themselves change seats.
During the scene when the cops arrived after the train stopped, Lady in Teal was one of the suspects. She was not arrested or searched as the other two suspects were searched first and Plankton was found to be guilty but she disappears after the cops find the Triplets gang.
When Plankton uncouples the tender from the engine, the steam engine still keeps moving. However, by uncoupling the tender, the steam train engine would come to a complete stop, as it would involve disconnecting the water pipes and vacuum brake pipes between the cabin and the tender, preventing water from coming to the boiler. Furthermore, tender engines do not store coal behind them: they store it in the tender.
When Plankton knocks SpongeBob and Patrick out of the train, he is in the middle of the train, but when he says "Thanks for the key," Plankton is in the caboose.