Walker returned after a mini hiatus over the holidays last week, much to fans’ anticipation. Jared Padalaecki did an Instagram Live with Entertainment Weekly’s Sam Highfill in the morning, teasing what to expect later that evening, and he live tweeted the episode, which made the return extra exciting.
The fandom that has followed Padalecki from show to show, especially from Supernatural, is accustomed to some interaction (okay, yes, we’re a bit spoiled!) and Jared has kept up that tradition on Walker, sometimes jumping on Twitter to reply to random fan questions and generally wreaking wonderful havoc in the fandom. Some of the other Walker cast are also interactive, including Keegan Allen’s popular posts that are often right in line with what the fans themselves would request. The high degree of interaction has solidified the Walker fandom quickly, with its own fan wikis and content accounts – and, so far anyway, not too much in the way of fandom in-fighting. Fingers crossed it stays that way!
So there was alot of anticipation about last week’s episode, and the episode moved just about every story line along – and delivered a cliffhanger ending too!
The titular question applies to just about everyone over the course of the episode, but the first iteration is for the brothers Walker. The episode starts out with the Walkers preparing a meal together, everyone joking around until Cordell accidentally knocks a bowl full of fresh rolls out of Liam’s hands. It shatters, an apt metaphor for the fragility of the brothers’ relationship right now.
Cordell snaps at him, Liam snaps back, and Augie and Stella want to know what the hell is going on. Liam decides to tell them about his suspicions about Dan Miller and how he made an ill advised false police report.
Stella: That’s not good.
Stella with the understatement. The brothers glare at each other.
Cordell: It’s a misdemeanor. Your uncle could be disbarred.
Liam: Thanks, Cordell, I know that.
Abilene says that’s enough as Liam storms out. She’s not exactly thrilled with either of her sons right now and I am, as always, loving her Mama Bear approach to trying to keep this volatile family of hers on a relatively even keel. It rarely works but I appreciate her efforts.
Walker goes to the office, watching as someone takes Micki’s name plate down and carts it off in a box, and ouch. It’s not clear at first, but apparently weeks have passed, and they haven’t been easy ones.
As I sit down to write a review of the first season’s finale, let me be honest about something. I wasn’t sure I’d love Walker. As a Supernatural fan who had come to love Sam Winchester and the man who played him so brilliantly, of course I was going to give Jared Padalecki’s new show a try. I’d worked with Jared to write an autobiographical book chapter in ‘Family Don’t End With Blood’ and gotten to know him a little, so I was thrilled when he was given this new show to film right in his own backyard. I had never watched the original Walker Texas Ranger either; it wasn’t my kind of show. The first few episodes, I watched because it was Jared, and I was happy for him. But little by little, Walker grew on me. The characters began to be fleshed out, and the themes of the show began to make themselves clear, especially how grief and loss can impact a family – and sometimes tear them apart. My psychologist brain was intrigued. And then my heart got pulled in.
As the season progressed, Walker paralleled what was happening with the Supernatural fandom, a family also being torn apart by grief and loss. Walker became a refuge – a brand new little fandom which has not yet fragmented into ship wars and favorite character factions trying to tear each other apart on any given day. The Walker fandom right now is a smaller group of fans who seem happy to watch the show and ship anyone and everyone and let everyone else ship different anyones and everyones without any shaming (imagine!) – or ship no one at all. Who happily post thirsty gifs of shirtless Cordell and Trey but are also excited to hear about props from the engaging crew or to celebrate that week’s guest star. Who are rooting for Liam and Bret to get back together – and also for Abeline and Bonham. Who celebrate Micki and Geri’s burgeoning friendship (or ship them, whatever…) and the way Augie and Stella can open up to each other a little. Thursdays have been a drama-free let’s-all-watch-and-enjoy evening, with Padalecki and some of the other cast joining in to live tweet or do Instagram takeovers. It’s been FUN. I’d almost forgotten when fandom was FUN.
The cast and crew shared some little videos of Lindsey Morgan and Coby Bell wrapping their seasons, and the hugs that the cast shared as they celebrated, and it seems like they had as much fun filming the show as the fandom did watching it – even though it was clearly challenging to film during the pandemic. Many of the actors have talked about the positive atmosphere on the set and credited Jared with setting that tone – just like he and Jensen Ackles did on Supernatural. I feel like oddly proud of that, watching that legacy be carried on.
I’m so glad that Walker is already renewed for a Season 2, so I have more of that to look forward to. For now, here are my thoughts on the Season 1 finale, as Walker wraps up its very first season.
The final episode picks up right where we left off, in a tense confrontation between Walker and former boss Stan. Walker confronts Stan over the two dead bodies (literally), holding a gun on him, accusing him of forcing Carlos to confess to Emily’s murder. Stan keeps protesting that’s not what happened, though he admits he was there. He insists it was his idea to pay Carlos and that Cali forced his hand. (We will later find out that this is partly true, but the truth is also a lot more painful than Stan is letting on). Cordell realizes that the dead reporter must have had something on him, and starts to understand just how dark this scenario really is. Jared Padalecki makes this scene incredibly tense from the very start, as he brokenly asks Stan, “did you kill my wife?”
“Cordi,” Stan answers, using the familiar nickname – a reminder that this is a man who has been nearly part of the family for a very long time, making it an even worse betrayal when he denies it.
Cordell suspects Stan still has people on the inside who will help him, so instead of taking him in and following the rules, he orders him to get in the car and “drive”.
Shout out to the suspenseful music here, which amps up the tension without getting in the way of it. This episode really did feel like a roller coaster at times.
While Stan and Cordell are driving and all hell is breaking loose, the rest of the Walkers are at Stan’s (very large) house that he offered to them for the wedding vow renewals. The juxtaposition of the rest of the family all casually setting up flowers and decorations at Stan’s house while Stan is driving at gunpoint is striking.
Augie finds a key under a statue (as you do) and they let themselves in. As they take in the opulence, Augie wonders why, if he lives in a house this nice, Stan wants to be DA, which is a relevant question. Why does Stan have such a nice house?? Hmmm.
(Of course the entire fandom has found Stan sus from the jump, so no one is actually surprised by the house).
The rest of the family is clueless and un-angsty for the Walker clan, Stella saying that her dad has “actually been pretty cool lately.” Stan even has a framed photo of Cordell’s swearing in, with a pregnant Emily beaming proudly.
Believe it or not, it’s already time for the penultimate episode of Walker’s first season! This was another episode that was well paced, with a lot happening but not so much that it felt jampacked or overwhelming. Jared Padalecki’s former Supernatural costar and frequent director, Richard Speight, Jr., joined the Walker family to helm this episode, with many of his signature striking shots enriching ‘Dig’.
In addition to the main characters, Stan (Jeffrey Nordling) had a roller coaster of an evolution, from feeling on top of the world and confident of his success and power, to all his deceptions and shady alliances coming down on him by the end of the episode. Nordling is talented enough to let us see Stan as not just a stereotypical villain, but a man who longs for the family bonds that the Walkers have and the resilience those relationships give them. Instead of using that as motivation, however, Stan is envious and bitter – and ultimately dangerous. Nevertheless, especially in a few scenes with Abilene, we see that Stan has a human side too, and Nordling makes me wonder what went so wrong that he ended up in the position he’s in now, harmful to the people around him and tied to North Side Nation whether he likes it or not.
The episode begins with Stan reinstating Walker with the Rangers – and warning him that they don’t need “some new breed of Ranger in touch with your feelings or whatever.” Stan at times seems like the embodiment of toxic masculinity beliefs and an example of what those beliefs can shape you into. Walker, however, has come to realize that he doesn’t have to embrace anger and aggression as the only acceptable emotions.
Walker: Well, Stan, maybe it’s time we embraced some change.
Stan is unconvinced, warning Walker to “color inside the lines” – that is, don’t stray from those traditional values especially when it comes to masculinity or law enforcement. He knows how to play on the norms that we all absorb, Cordell included, to push him back into that ‘box’.
Stan: I’m hoping for both our sakes, you won’t have to take orders from your kid brother.
That was a good example of how we all police each other to stay inside those lines, with reminders of the consequences if we don’t. It’s all about competition and winning in Stan’s book, with relationships taking a back seat in importance.
Stan pins a ‘Vote for Stan’ button on Walker, as Cordell tries not to grimace.
Stan: Welcome back, Ranger.
Even that is a reminder – I’m the one in power, giving you back the position you want. That means you’ll support me, that’s the way the game is played.
Once again on vacation, so a true drive by review, but I wanted to say a few words about last week’s new Walker episode. A lot happened but the episode was really nicely paced, so it didn’t feel crowded as they sometimes have and it also didn’t drag. Writer Aaron Carew penned a script that tackled some of the most disturbing and pressing issues facing us in real life in an unflinching (albeit television ready) way, from a corrupt group of cops to the impact of racism, both overt and more subtle. Coby Bell especially did an amazing job showing the almost superhuman restraint required of Captain Bell in waiting until his case against the bad cop was so air tight it couldn’t be ignored, and his understanding that race is part of that equation (something Carew clearly understood as well).
Walker can sometimes get a little heavy handed, but its willingness to hit right on the nose can also feel therapeutic. We all live in a world where it feels like the ‘bad guys’ are winning too much of the time, so seeing a creepy bad cop get taken down is undeniably satisfying. He was certainly a creep writ large, and the moment when he plants some illegal drugs on James’ son and drags him out of his car for no reason could have been over the top – except that happens in real life to young Black men and that made it terrifying instead. As someone pointed out online, the way DJ handled himself during the fabricated traffic stop was telling – telegraphing and announcing his every move before he made it just in case, carefully and slowly placing both hands on the wheel, complying with every command even though he knew he had done absolutely nothing wrong. And unfortunately, that was not unrealistic.
The bad guy’s lack of any redeeming qualities whatsoever doesn’t necessarily make for nuanced storytelling, but it did make me want to stand up and cheer when James, Walker, Micki and Liam all showed how badass they are and took the asshole down! As several fans who are persons of color themselves pointed out, the episode was careful to show that taking down one asshole – one ‘bad apple’ – is not going to solve any systemic problems. The focus was not just on that one bad apple, but on how the system itself protects bad apples – even when the ‘threat’ is coming from within law enforcement. (As evidenced by Capt. James’ car being bombed and the scope of people in power who are caught up in the cover-ups)
Last week’s Walker episode (‘A Tale of Two Families’) was hard to watch at times. That’s not a criticism though – the show has explored grief since its start, and the reason I appreciate that exploration is because it’s done well enough to feel real. This episode, thanks to some stellar acting by Jared Padalecki especially, felt very real. And that was hard to watch.
There were a few scenes that were hard to watch for a different reason that wasn’t quite as welcome, but mostly I came to the end of the episode feeling gobsmacked but like that’s exactly how I was supposed to feel.
The episode was a little more innovative than the show has been so far, starting out with a beginning sequence that picks up where the last episode left off, Walker and Stella returning to the ranch. We see in little flashes a sequence play out of Clint and Trevor driving up, Clint holding a gun on Cordell as Stella screams ‘Dad!’. Liam runs out of the house to help, Cordell yells ‘Liam!’ – and Clint shoots him!
That was quite a beginning!
We then get a flashback to 13 months ago, to the day that kicked off the trauma and loss we’ve seen the characters struggle with ever since. Emily loads up her car with bottles of water to take to the border. Augie asks if he can use her camera and she says she was hoping he’d pick it up – and we immediately realize why he’s followed up on that hope. It was one of the last things she said to her son, and the last wish she expressed for him.
Augie: What should I take a picture of?
Emily: (striking a pose): Something to remember me by!
Of course she has no idea how poignant and prophetic her words are going to be.
Emily also kicks a ball around with Stella (Gen Padalecki putting her real life sports skills to good use), asking her if she’s sure about playing basketball since she’s so good at soccer. Stella, too, has tried to follow her mother’s last expressed wishes by doing just that.
Emily and Cordell talk on the phone and she reminds him of game night and they trade ‘I love you’ ‘I love you more,”