Walker Goes Undercover with Episode 1.05 ‘Duke’

We’re somehow already on episode 5 of Walker’s first season, and starting to feel a little bit like we’re getting to know the characters. This episode, however, let us get to know someone else a little – Walker’s undercover alter ego, Duke.  It was an interesting glimpse into what those ten months were like for him when he was gone, and just how deeply he lost himself in this other persona. If I look at that from my psychologist perspective, it seems like Cordell wasn’t ready to adapt to the loss of his wife, so he threw himself into an entirely different world. Became someone who hadn’t been in love with Emily and hadn’t lost her; someone who could immerse himself in another romantic relationship way before Cordell himself was ready to do that, even if he was ‘pretending’ some of the time. It’s not the healthiest coping strategy for grieving, and it had a negative impact on his family, but it’s becoming a little clearer why Walker stayed away all that time and just how deep he was in. Interestingly, the always perceptive fandom noticed that Padalecki covered up his crown tattoo that he shares with Supernatural castmates Jensen Ackles and Jeffrey Dean Morgan when Walker was undercover as Duke. It’s all about identity in this episode.

The episode begins “Four Months Earlier” at a rodeo, Walker in a ball cap and looking a little scruffier than usual as things like calf roping go on. The attractive blonde woman  in the photo August developed (Twyla Jean, guest star Karissa Lee Staples)  comes on to him, saying she’s worked up the courage to introduce herself.

It seems like he’s had long enough to prove himself in some way, with Walker commenting that they’re keeping him sidelined so he doesn’t embarrass any of them. At that, one of the guys (Clint) challenges him to a sort of rite of passage – riding a bull for ten seconds.

Clink: Whaddya say, Dick?

Walker: It’s Duke.

Twyla proves herself in his corner by cautioning him that the bull has a cracked rib, so not to squeeze with his knees. At least I think that’s what she said – the audio in this show is still uneven at times.

We don’t actually see Walker (or his stunt double) riding the bull, and this is a little off topic, but I was distracted during this whole scene by my own feelings about rodeo. Sorry, I know this is a show based in Texas, but why is anyone riding a bull with cracked ribs? Or at all, for that matter? That’s neither here nor there, I know, but my feelings got in the way of what was intended as an indication of Walker’s success.

Walker — “Duke” — Image Number: WLK105b_1007r — Pictured (L-R): Jared Padalecki as Cordell Walker — Photo: Rebecca Brenneman/The CW — © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Jared Padalecki live tweeted the episode while dealing with floods and electricity outages in Austin, rescuing chickens and inviting neighbors into his home while the neighbors had no power or water.

Jared: BTS: I rode that bull for four minutes. But we had to cut those shots for timing sake. We even traded places.

I laughed out loud.

Back to “Present Day” and Walker freaking out about August texting Twyla (without knowing who he was texting) and her texting back. He seems on the verge of a panic attack and dunks his head in a sink full of cold water to calm down.

Padalecki in real life understands what it’s like to cope with anxiety, and he does a great job portraying that here. (The chapter he wrote in the book Family Don’t End With Blood talks about his own personal experience with anxiety and depression and his real life coping strategies).

He tells the kids at breakfast that he has to go out of town briefly, and Stella immediately looks upset.

Stella: That would be a no for today, then?

She’s wearing her soccer jersey; her father insists that he’ll be there at her game.

August: (bitterly) Unless he leaves town.

Uh oh. I can already see where this is going. That fragile progress Walker made with his son last episode is easily overturned as soon as August fears his dad is on the verge of abandoning them again.

Walker isn’t amused. He grounds August for taking the phone, saying it was boxed up for a reason. I have to admit, taking that phone was an odd thing for Augie to do. The character sometimes reads as confusingly young and naïve. Wouldn’t the teenage son of a Texas Ranger know better than to plug in one of his dad’s phones and text some random person? For that matter, wouldn’t Walker have deactivated the phone instead of leaving it lying around in a box? Hmm.

At any rate, August and Stella are still not trusting their dad to stick around, and that’s realistic. Children are more sensitive to perceived abandonment than anything else, and with their mother gone, their dad is all they have in terms of a parent.

Walker drives a little ways out of town then gets out and strips to the waist, changing shirts and putting on a cross on a chain and slapping on some (bad) aftershave. His change from Walker to Duke gave a grateful fandom some gorgeous shots of shirtless Padalecki in the Texas sun. (Screencaps and gifs of that scene took up half my timeline the next day. Not complaining).

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Jared livetweeting: Oh no, it’s back! #DadBod

Everyone: Incorrect

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Supernatural Rewatch – With Some BTS Insights on ‘Bugs’!

The eighth episode of Supernatural does not get a lot of love – in fact, it’s one that’s routinely skipped on rewatches or ridiculed for its “bad writing”. But honestly? ‘Bugs’ is a great episode, especially now in retrospect. All those early episodes are frankly amazing, with both the acting and the writing top notch and the cinematography off the charts gorgeous.

Bugs are not my favorite thing, so there are some parts of this episode that are indisputably cringeworthy, but it goes with the territory. The guest stars on this episode are also amazing, especially Carrie Genzel (who wrote a wonderful chapter in There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done and would memorably return to the show in Just My Imagination) and Tyler Johnston, who played a young Matt here and would later return as Samandriel.  See the end of this review for some (cringeworthy and also hilarious) behind the scenes insights from Carrie and Tyler about the filming of this episode.

So, what’s not to like?

I watched, as always, with some of my friends and fellow Supernatural fans, via zoom. Which, after a year of the pandemic, is how most of us live life half the time anyway!

The open is, as is often the case, pretty scary – a guy working in a housing development falls down a hole, breaks his ankle and is trapped. While his friend gets a rope to try to save him, he looks around and to his horror hears the sound of thousands of beetles coming for him. He screams for help as they crawl into his ears, his mouth… by the time the other guy shines his flashlight into the hole, guy number one is dead dead dead.

Everyone doing the rewatch: Ewwwwww

Cut to the boys, as always. Sam’s reading the paper in a bar, about the “local death that’s a medical mystery” as Dean comes down the stairs, grinning and shuffling a fist full of bills. I’m struck sometimes now by how carefree early seasons Dean is, despite what they’re already facing. He is genuinely thrilled that he’s won a bunch of money in a poker game or whatever.

Sam: You know, we could get day jobs…

Dean:  Hunting’s our day job. Besides, we’re good at it, it’s what we were raised to do.

Sam: How we were raised was jack.

Dean: Says you!

The brothers are still new to being back together, Dean still sensitive and defensive about the hunting life that Sam left behind and Sam still critical of all the things that he left to get away from.

Also they are extremely distracting because they look like THAT.

The newspaper suggests maybe mad cow disease, which – remember that?

Dean: Wasn’t that on Oprah?

Sam: (incredulous) You watch Oprah?

Ah, the things we (and Sam) were learning about Dean Winchester. So much softness underneath that performatively gruff (sometimes) exterior.

The Impala streaks across some beautiful Vancouver countryside on her way to Oasis Plains. Sam and Dean pose as Uncle Dusty’s never-before-mentioned nephews, rolling easily with the guy’s skepticism and flattering him enough that he forgets about it soon enough. They’re good at what they do; John taught them well. And, as I’ve pointed out many times already on this rewatch, they’re SMART.

They amass some intel, like the guy’s brain disintegrated in an hour or less and that, unlike mad cow disease, there was no sign of dementia, lack of motor control, or anything else weird.

Sam and Dean look down the very deep hole.

Dean: Only room for one, you have a coin?

Sam: Dean, we have no idea what’s down there!

Dean: Okay I’ll go if you’re scared. You scared? Call it in the air, chicken!

Sam: (exasperated) I’m going.

Dean: I said I’d go!

Sam: I’m going. Don’t drop me!

Me: I could sit here and listen to their brotherly bickering and banter all damn day. I miss it so much it makes my heart ache.

That accomplished, they get back into the Impala and pass an open house that’s advertising Free BBQ, and Dean pulls over.

Dean: I know a good place to start. I’m hungry for BBQ, how bout you?

SaM: Free food’s got nothing to do with it?

Dean: Of course not, I’m a professional.

This time the banter is good humored, the brothers gently teasing each other, smiling when the other isn’t looking. Dean looks around at the brand new housing development as they get out of the car, saying that it would freak him out growing up in a place like that, manicured lawns, etc.

Dean: I’d blow my brains out.

Sam: There’s nothing wrong with normal.

Dean: I’d take our family over normal any day.

Both brothers know they’re not talking about Oasis Plains. I really appreciate it now, how neither of them will let it go – they go round and round and round, each stuck in their own perspective of why Sam left and what that means. That strikes me as so realistic – it’s what we do, we get stuck on this stuff, and it gets in the way of our relationships with people we love. I so enjoy watching Sam and Dean struggle with it, knowing that eventually they’ll work it out.

Larry the developer welcomes them to the open house, taking one look at Sam and Dean going house shopping and assuring them that “we accept homeowners of any race, religion, color or…. Sexual orientation.”

Dean: (deadpan) We’re brothers.

Larry: (awkward) Oh.

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‘Walker’ Episode 1.04 –  Multiple Meanings for ‘Don’t Fence Me In’

Four episodes into the series, and this was a never-a-dull-moment episode, with a more complicated case of the week and some excellent emotional beats too.

The opening is adrenaline-fueled from the start. Walker and Micki respond to a call about a shooting in an oil field and chase the shooter in his truck. They go against some ‘new regulations’ to stop him, Walker yelling to Micki to “bulldog it” and Micki doing some impressive driving to cut the guy off.

They find him unconscious  and bleeding from a head wound. Micki notices his gang tattoos from the Olvidados gang before the ambulance arrives. The next day, Micki gets pulled onstage at the big press conference celebrating putting away a gang member, although she’s reluctant to take the podium, both because her partner isn’t there and out of an awareness of tokenism.

Micki refers to the spectacle of the press conference as a ‘dog and pony show’. It occurs to me that both Jared Padalecki and his former Supernatural costar, Jensen Ackles, have moved on to shows that are, in their own way, questioning the way our society works (and doesn’t work).  The press conference on Walker turns out to be an example of media manipulation – not as spectacular as the interrogation of media and PR on ‘The Boys’ but the awareness is there.

Afterwards, Micki is confronted by a young girl accusing her of betraying her own people and not “doing her homework,” insisting Enzo (her father) was no longer a gang member.

Delia (Paola Andino): You betray your people!

Ramirez starts to wonder if she did go along too quickly with the party line; in fact, following her instincts eventually solves the case.

One of the themes of this episode is Walker still trying to get to know his new partner better. He takes note of former colleagues from the Police Department who have a nickname for her, Muskrat, complaining that she won’t even tell him her middle name. More on that later.

Walker’s re-integration into his family’s life also continues, as he and the kids move boxes full of their stuff into their new home. August finds a box of his dad’s old things and starts exploring, putting on the cap that’s in the box, trying to get in touch with the parts of his dad he feels cut off from.

Walker has an oddly strong reaction when he sees what August is looking at, yanking the box away and saying it’s just “old case stuff.” Augie, like the teenager he is, surreptitiously grabs a camera and cell phone from the box and hides them before his father takes the box. That night, he plugs the phone in and charges it up. Curiosity killed the cat and all that, but I don’t blame August for wanting to know more about the time his father was away. Obviously Cordell couldn’t share details of his  undercover case, but you get the feeling he could have sat down and shared some of the past eleven months with his children who were feeling abandoned all that time.

Augie, with the help of Ruby, develops some of the photos that were in the camera – there’s one of a smiling, carefree looking Cordell, with a woman. Not August’s mother.

Secrets are another theme of the episode, because August isn’t the only one finding things. As he puts the box of old things away, Walker discovers more family secrets in the basement – a box of letters written to his mother. Not from his father.

In possibly my favorite scene, later in the episode, Cordell helps his mother label jars of her famous jalapeno jam. She says August has been asking “existential questions” about whether his dad is happy, and Walker has that same question for his mother, asking about the letters from Gary.

She says it was in the past, and Cordell wonders if his dad knows and if that’s why he was at one point sleeping in the bunkhouse. Abilene says it’s because he snores, but Cordell doesn’t believe it. She responds (appropriately) that they’re still the parents and they get to have their secrets – that she’s sure he and Emily didn’t tell their children everything.

Cordell smiles and agrees, saying that Emily used to snore like a bear cub.

The mention of his wife, the fond memories, and the quiet time with his own mother, bring tears to Cordell’s eyes.

Cordell: I miss her so much, Mama.

Padalecki makes that moment so vulnerable. The way he still calls her ‘Mama’, and the way she enfolds him in her arms, this big 6’5” man, who looks like a lost little boy as he clings to her and lets her comfort him. It made me extra emotional because it’s something Padalecki’s former character, Sam Winchester, so desperately longed for and never really got. Somehow that made me even more happy for Cordell.

I continue to love Molly Hagan as Abilene too; you can see how much she hurts for her son, how much she wants to console him and how much genuine empathy she has for him too. This family is flawed and imperfect and entirely human, and like the Winchesters, dealing with a lot of trauma and loss, but they sure as hell are trying and there’s a lot of love there. With my psychologist hat on, I appreciate the thoughtful way the show is exploring these complicated relationships, and the way the cast is making themselves vulnerable enough to portray all those conflicting emotions.

We know from another brief scene that things are not all peachy between Abilene and Bonham, and finding out that there was a Gary at a time when things weren’t going so well means that at one point they were even less peachy.

Stella keeps some secrets of her own from her dad, including her budding crush on the guy working at the stables where she’s serving her community service, Trevor (Gavin Casalegno). When Cordell comes by to check on her, Stella hides in a stall with Trevor, as mortified by her dad as every teenager in the entire world has been.

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Sam and Dean Go To College – Supernatural Rewatch 1.07 Hookman! 

Hook Man was never one of my favorite episodes, but I think I’m appreciating all the episodes more on rewatch just because I know I’m not getting any more – they’re all incredibly valuable to me now. And this one, like so many of the early episodes, was beautifully filmed and had the creepy horror movie vibe down.

It’s a stereotypical sorority house opening and then the even more stereotypical college kids on a date go parking under a creepy bridge in the dark. As they start kissing in the car, we see the silhouette of a man in a flowing coat with a hook for a hand. And honestly, it’s truly scary!  The guy keeps trying to pull her shirt down and she keeps saying no, hey, I mean it – and then there’s the ominous sound of scraping metal against metal, although we can’t see anything out there. The guy gets out because that’s what the guy always does in a horror movie and then the girl frantically rolls up the windows and starts screaming.

There’s a wonderful shot of the car as something invisible scratches a deep gash in the side, with a terrible screech – but there’s no one there.

The terrified young woman finally gets out and starts to run away, only to look back and see the guy dead and strung up from a tree.

Cue horror movie worthy scream.

Opening segment at an end, it’s time to find the Winchesters. Sam and Dean are searching for clues on their dad, Sam on a pay phone (it’s 2005!) and Dean on a laptop at a café.

Dean: Your half caf latte is getting cold here, Francis.

Sam: Bite me.

(That little conversation makes more sense if you watch the deleted scene that explains the Francis somehow, but I can’t for the life of me remember what happened in it).

Dean confides to Sam that he doesn’t think Dad wants to be found. Dad would, on the other hand, want them to check out a case he’s found of a mutilated body and an invisible attacker. Sam goes along, which follows the gradual evolution of Sam’s investment in hunting and saving innocent people versus finding the thing that killed Jessica and their missing father. He still wants the latter more than the former, but he’s beginning to see the sense of control and satisfaction that saving other people can bring when your life feels so out of control. It’s what Dean was trying to explain to his brother in Wendigo, as a coping strategy that keeps him going even in the face of repeated trauma and tragedy in their own family.

They end up at a fraternity house, where they claim to be fraternity brothers looking for a place to stay. The funny thing is, Jared and Jensen are so young at this point that it’s entirely plausible.

A frat boy is painting himself purple. As you do. (Fandom is fandom btw, and if it’s perfectly okay to paint yourself purple for every game, don’t quibble with media fans cosplay or any other expression of fannish passion and creativity!)

Frat boy to Dean: Do me a favor, get my back?

Dean: Oh, he’s the artist. The things he can do with a brush.

Sam gives him a bitchface and Dean sits down to watch while Sam paints, thoroughly enjoying the spectacle.

Dean: You missed a spot, lower back…

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Walker Walks the Line with ‘Bobblehead’ – and Gets Season 2!

Third episodes of new television shows are often the times when the narrative takes off in a slightly different direction, which is a bit of what happened with last week’s episode of the new Walker on the CW.  I enjoyed the episode – and there were quite a few people on my timeline who liked it even better than the first two – but there were also some parts that didn’t work quite as well for me. Part of that is because I was so impressed in the first two episodes with how realistically the show portrayed the Walker family’s grief over Emily’s death, making that the centerpiece of the family drama in the show. This episode still touched on that theme, but also took the show in a slightly different direction and introduced a new guest character.

Leading up to the episode, the network did a great job with promotion once again – including celebrating the good news that the show has already been renewed for Season 2! That’s an impressive accomplishment after only two episodes have aired, and a testament to the fan base that these actors bring with them, including many from my ‘home’ fandom, Supernatural.  The cast all tweeted their celebration, and so did many of Padalecki’s former Supernatural castmates. It felt good for the still-new Walker fandom to already have something to celebrate!

On Thursday, Jeff Pierre took over the Walker Instagram for the day, which made for more fun and some cameos from the other actors. Jeff Pierre is already a fan favorite thanks to his sense of humor and easy way of interacting with fans – and he and many of the show’s cast are clearly comfortable with social media.

Jared Padalecki live tweeted the East coast airing of the episode, so I watched and did a little tweeting and also enjoyed Jared’s commentary, some of which was cheeky and hilarious. Live tweeting used to happen every now and then for Supernatural, but it’s been a long time, so it felt really good to know that he was enjoying the episode right along with us. The last year of SPN fandom was contentious to say the least, and it felt especially good to feel like we were all just there to have fun together. I really hope that atmosphere sticks around – not that I won’t critique the show, because that’s what episode reviews do, but make no mistake, I have always enjoyed the shows I review. Otherwise I wouldn’t be watching!

So, Episode 3.

There was quite a bit to enjoy about that new character they introduced — Hoyt (Matt Barr), who high kicks his way back into the Walkers’ lives after a lengthy absence. We first meet him bare chested in short shorts and chaps, covered in sweat and glitter and dancing in a strip club. I am trying mightily not to compare Walker to the show that preceded it in this time slot on the CW, my all time favorite Supernatural, but Jared Padalecki just being in both keeps tying them together in my mind. So I laughed out loud when we got a male exotic dancer because yes, there are a fair number of Supernatural fans watching, and yes, some of us would have appreciated a similar scene at some point in that show’s 15 years. Sam and Dean go undercover at strip clubs on the regular in fanfic, why not in canon?

Anyway, points for that, Walker. Not what we expected from Walker’s best friend from childhood, and I like being surprised.

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I continue to enjoy the fact that I don’t enjoy all the characters in this show, at least not all the time. Give me shades of gray instead of black and white, and characters complicated enough to sometimes inspire empathy and sometimes annoyance, and I’ll be happy. Hoyt was annoying more often than not, but we also learned enough about his backstory to come up with some explanations of why. In some ways, he’s the stereotypical con man, which isn’t necessarily all that interesting – smooth lies underneath equally smooth charm. He’s manipulative and smart enough to be good at it, which Walker both expects and doesn’t want to believe.

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