'Bite of the Jackal' is a top-notch first season episode of 'Airwolf', and one of my favourites. I know I said it about a million times during my review of that episode, but quite why "the powers that be" decided to use the weak 'Daddy's Gone a Hunt'n' to open the regular series and not the far superior 'Bite of the Jackal' (which was also the first regular episode to be produced) to kick things off, has always bemused me.
When I first recorded this episode off-air, when my ITV region broadcast it in 1995, I liked it, but it kinda got lost in the mass of first season greats for me to maybe fully appreciate how good it was. A couple of years later, when I was sorting out my videotapes and labelling them up (many years before the DVD releases), I came across this episode and watched it through again, and came to regard it as one of the best of the first season.
After (understandably) playing second fiddle for most of the Pilot, and having little to do in 'Daddy's Gone a Hunt'n', here the great Ernest Borgnine finally gets a chance to really shine as Dominic. He also has a good rapport with young stowaway Phoebe – played by a young Shannon Doherty. I'm actually not that familiar with Doherty's adult career, never having watched 'Charmed' or the like, but here she puts in a decent performance, thankfully not straying too far into bratty kid territory.
This is the only first season episode not to feature Deborah Pratt as Marella; for this story, Archangel has a different "white lady", Laura. As this episode was the first episode after the Pilot to be produced, maybe it could be presumed that, during this story, Marella was still recovering from her injuries from where Moffet turned Airwolf's firepower onto the Firm control tower.
There is a nice touch when, as Dominic's chopper crashes, back at his hut by the lake, Hawke suddenly feels something and looks up at the sky, suggesting a faint psychic connection. Other Bellisario productions have also touched upon such a notion (several 'Magnum, p.i.' episodes, including my all-time favourite episode of that show, the classic fourth season opener 'Home From the Sea'), and thankfully they pull it off with enough subtlety to prevent it from being silly.
Another point that becomes apparent as a recurring first season trait in this episode, after similar sequences at the climax of the Pilot and 'Daddy's Gone a Hunt'n', is how Hawke will hover above the enemy of the episode in Airwolf, deciding whether to let them live or not. Sometimes he flies off; sometimes he blows them away. Sadly, this is the sort of thing that would be lost from the series as it began to be "domesticated" from the second season onwards.
This episode also features some great aerial footage... the novelty of Archangel acting as co-pilot... I'm actually surprised that 'Bite of the Jackal' doesn't currently, at time of writing, doesn't feature on the site's Top 10 most popular episodes. I really like this one, and it is definitely in my personal Top 10. I give this one a solid 10/10.