This review contains moderate spoilers.
'To Snare a Wolf' is a terrific finale to the very strong first season of 'Airwolf'. It feels to bookend the season perfectly, with a ruthless Government agent determined to locate Airwolf and return it, so that he may get the glory.
This episode is often joked about by some TV fans, wondering if there was a bus trip visit from the cast of 'Magnum, p.i.' when this episode was filmed! Indeed, it has three recurring performers from that series: Lance LeGault played hard-nosed Colonel "Buck" Green (and is most recognisable to many viewers as Colonel Decker from the second, third and fourth seasons (and one fifth season episode) of 'The A-Team); Kathleen Lloyd played D.A. Carol Baldwin, and Jeff MacKay played Lt. "Mac" MacReynolds, conman Jim Bonnick, and Mac's ghost(!) in that series.
Incidentally, both LeGault and MacKay would also go on to appear in the next episode of 'Airwolf' (first episode of the second season), 'Sweet Britches', in different roles. LeGault also played yet another character in the far inferior third season instalment 'Wildfire'.
When the show was coming up to be renewed for a second season, creator Donald P. Bellisario was coming under a lot of pressure from "the powers that be" to implement a lot of changes, including the introduction of a regular female cast member. So I've long wondered if Kathleen Lloyd was introduced as pilot Toni Donatelli in this episode with a view for her to continue in such a role (she is looking for a job at Santini Air, and at the end, he offers one to her – as well as Archangel looking to employ her). However, the character never appears or is mentioned in the series again; instead, in the second season opener, we are introduced to Jean Bruce Scott, who soon becomes a regular as Caitlin O'Shaughnessy.
Although, as with many TV shows of the era, the tempo is a little slower here-and-there than today's tighter-paced equivalents, for the most part, this episode has always kept me engrossed throughout, and has stood up to many, MANY re-viewings, ever since I recorded it from my local ITV region (scissor-happy LWT) when the series was re-run in the mid-1990s.
The episode typifies the well-conducted, often rather sophisticated feel that is present through nearly all of the first season (and something that, despite the second season's own qualities, would sadly start to wear away from the series as it continued). Lance LeGault is always good value for money as a nemesis, and delivers the goods here, and the overall plot is a good one – in fact, better than it probably sounds on paper.
The climatic sequence, with Hawke flying Airwolf through the bomb-run, is really spectacular, and made it into the 1985 Guinness Book of Records for the largest use of live explosives at one time for filming of a TV series. This impressive sequence makes up for the *terrible*, ancient stock footage satellite effect (which seems to literally be made out of cardboard!!) seen elsewhere in the story (as well as the obvious stock footage, complete with severe scratch down one side, of the initial bombs falling).
All-in-all, this is the perfect conclusion to a really impressive first season. Sadly (as mentioned above), various changes would appear for the second season, lightening the moody feel and altering the general vibe of the show somewhat before long (although still had a number of strong episodes). For a great conclusion to the first season, I give 'To Snare a Wolf' a perfect 10/10.
---First season review---
Although obviously dated a little in some of its staging and pacing (though not as severely as some other TV offerings from the era), in many ways, the first season of 'Airwolf' feels to be somewhat ahead of it's time with regards to its mood and what it attempted. Back then, most action-adventure shows consisted mostly of hi-jinx and were very much tongue-in-cheek, but 'Airwolf' attempted to be something more, with a moody, often quite dark vibe to the proceedings, and a much more political-based edge to most of the stories. I also love Bellisario's trademark religious undertones that are present throughout the season.
Although the Pilot is maybe a little bit dragged out in my personal opinion, it sets both the scenario, and the general tone of the season, very well, and gives us a great, twisted genius villain in Dr. Moffet (David Hemmings). After the Pilot, comes the only real dud of the season, 'Daddy's Gone a Hunt'n'; this is an unusually loose-footed (and rather uninteresting) first season episode. It wasn't even the first hour-long episode to be filmed, so I can't help but wonder why they didn't choose one of the other, much stronger instalments to kick the regular series off.
Thankfully, things soon pick up considerably, with the terrific 'Bite of the Jackal' (actually the first hour-long episode to be filmed), in which Dominic is stranded, in a trap set to capture Airwolf. Other strong stories soon followed – standouts include 'Echoes From the Past', 'Mind of the Machine' and the above reviewed season finale, 'To Snare a Wolf'.
Of course, there are lesser episodes, such as 'One Way Express' and 'Fight Like a Dove', but even these are still generally passable. And some have even improved with time – I didn't used to care much for 'Proof Through the Night', but now I really like it.
Although he has had his publicised troubles since the series ended, here in the first season, Jan-Michael Vincent is perfectly moody as the dark, haunted Stringfellow Hawke. Likewise, Alex Cord puts in a good performance as the likeable-yet-totally-untrustworthy Archangel, and – adding just the right amount of humour without upsetting the balance – screen legend Ernest Borgnine rounds things out as Dominic.
One can only wonder how the show would have continued and evolved if the enforced changes hadn't been implemented. But either way, the first season stands as a strong, and sometimes quite experimental time capsule from 1984.