Riding the Airwolf – Season 3, Episode 21 – Tracks

The Basic Plot:

The Airwolf teams finds danger awaiting on a mountain while taking part in an annual climb.

Review and Analysis:

For some shows, the 3rd season is when most will hit a positive stride, story-wise.

This is not the case for Airwolf.  Much of 3rd season has been rather aimless – and could probably be blamed most of all on Jan-Michael Vincent’s problems with alcohol.  When your main actor is going through a bad patch, sometimes you can get away with shifting the focus of the show to your other stars OR you try to minimize the amount of time that you need to focus on your main character.

The end result of taking on Option 2?  This episode.  It also had the collateral damage of sidelining Ernest Borgnine and Jean Bruce Scott – as it normally seems to do these days.

The Action Show Downtrodden Victims of the Week:

This episode is fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  They even have a Token Minority to boot.

This episode is fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. They even have a Token Minority to boot.

In keeping with the Public Service Announcement-theme that the 3rd season is full of, Tracks gives us a group of men who, for one reason or another, require the use of a wheelchair to get around.  Some of them had lost the use of their legs in the line of duty as cops.  Others lost their legs in Vietnam.

The Most Poorly Conceived Action Show Villain Ever Created:

22 seconds.  And still doesn't make any sense.

22 seconds. And still doesn’t make any sense.

Action Shows spend as little real estate as they can get away with in setting up the motivations of the Villain of the Week and how to set him (or her, or them) against the designated victims of the week.

But “Tracks” doesn’t even bother with giving him any kind of motivation – other than to stop the local hunters from hunting and killing the local wild cats in the mountain.

The Most Poorly Executed Narrative for the Villain’s Motives Ever Executed:

Superhelicopter with Advanced Weapons vs... A man with a crossbow.

Superhelicopter with Advanced Weapons vs… A man with a crossbow.

The biggest struggle for screenwriters is to tie the villain’s motivations against the will of the victims.  Sometimes, this process is easy: A big real estate mogul wants to force the orphanage to foreclose so he can take the land and make it into a mall…or resort…or something else that only rich people can partake in.  This is part of the calculus of creating both victim and villain; Your villain must be in a position that is superior to that of the victim in order for the heroic intervention on behalf of the victims to be seen as just.

In this case, however, “Tracks” never really gets into properly tying the villain (The Cat Man) with the victims (The men in the Wheelchairs).  Instead, we get an Action Show Leap of Faith:  The Cat-Man is supposed to be seen as psychotic.  His initial research into the habitats of the wild cats turned into a fanatical devotion to protecting their home.  Thus, he was to see ALL humans who pass through their habitat as interlopers – that need to be killed.

The problem with this reading is that the previous encounters that we see him involved with could be consider valid (with proper identification of enemy combatants).  It was never insinuated in this episode that The Cat-Man ever attacked a camper that was not a poacher.  There was a throwaway line by the Sheriff that Cat-Man may have killed one or more of the deputies.  Even in that statement, however, the Sheriff, never mentions if the Cat-Man ever harmed anyone who wasn’t involved in hunting or poaching.

Basically, until this episode, The Cat-Man never attacked or bothered anyone who simply camped out on the mountain range.

[Sidenote:  The Cat-Man had lived on the mountain range for the last 8 years.  The mountain climbing event has been going on at that same mountain range for a number of years.  So, it is logical to assume that the Cat-Man had seen at least some of the climbers before – and could assume that these people were not here to hunt the cats.]

So, in conclusion, we are not supposed to side with The Cat-Man because he is an environmentalist “gone wild.”

Officer Caitlin, Potted Plant:

Remember, she's an ex-cop.  Can you tell me how she helps the team, again?

Remember, she’s an ex-cop. Can you tell me how she helps the team, again?

Caitlin in this season has been relegated to 2 obvious roles:  Supportive female friend and damsel-in-distress.  With very few exceptions (like the episode “Little Wolf”) Caitlin doesn’t get yo fly Airwolf as its pilot.  Also, Caitlin never fires the guns while the Airwolf theme plays (then again, neither does Dom, but he flies Airwolf in heroic support more often than Caitlin ever does).

For “Tracks,” Caitlin is relegated to Supportive Female Friend – but to the point of being a potted plant.

Before Caitlin became a member of the Airwolf team, she was a helicopter pilot for the Texas Highway Patrol.  It would be easy to assume that, at some point, Caitlin would have been involved in Search-and-Rescue operations – and would have more experience in doing so than Dominic Santini would.  And yet, watching her scenes while she is flying in the helicopter with Dom while they are looking for Stringfellow and his climbing party give you no indication of her possessing any of those skills.

Unfortunately, this is par for the course for an Action Show, especially of the 1980s.

The Worst Ending and Denouement Ever Put to Film:

And men in wheelchairs are left to pummel the cat villain.

And men in wheelchairs are left to pummel the cat villain.

Dominic and Caitlin pick up Airwolf and return to the scene, where they outgun the villain of the week 20,000-to-1.  The large machine guns and the extra-extra-large cannon is bad enough, but it is also equipped with all-purpose missiles.

And they use this to face off against a man with a crossbow.

The real purpose of the final scene, however, was the picture posted above.  Airwolf shows up, fires some bullets, and then the men in the wheelchairs take down the villain and exact a measure of revenge for their friend killed earlier in the episode.

This is an obvious case of writing the ending of the episode long before writing the rest of it.

Final Thoughts:

“Tracks” is a case of trying to fill time as the season comes to a rather uneven close.  Dom and Caitlin don’t get much screentime here.  For that matter, Stringfellow takes a backseat to the men in the wheelchairs.  On top of this, we have a villain that really has nothing to do with the victims.  Not only does he seem to be tacked on, but he also never had any motivation to attack the men on the wheelchairs, who were climbing a mountain.

“Tracks” barely qualifies as an actual Airwolf episode.  Ingest a full spectrum of psychotropics if you want to actually enjoy this one.

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