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,”
Last week’s episode of Walker was the most eventful one ever, with many of the emotional story lines laid out in the first seven episodes getting put to the test as that time honored raise-the-stakes moment of television and film takes over – a tornado! As much as a sudden storm and people being caught in it, allowing us to find heroism in the show’s characters, is a common way to bring suspense and danger, somehow being in the middle of a real life pandemic and the very real effects of climate change make it all seem a bit more serious. That worked in the show’s favor, because the sense of danger was palpable. Kudos also to the show’s writer Katherine Alyse and director Stacey K. Black for keeping the pace slow enough to let that sense of danger build, at first from newscasters warning of the coming storm (a warning mostly missed by the characters caught up in their own emotional challenges) and later from the flurry of phone calls back and forth, which seemed a realistic way of depicting what we all would do in that kind of situation.
This was a complex episode, with serious emotional arcs playing out within the context of a natural disaster – the lingering effects of Abeline’s infidelity, Trevor caught between his feelings for Stella and his loyalty to his father, Micki still trying to avoid the reality of Adriana’s revelation by keeping it from Trey, Cordell making his first awkward and tentative steps toward envisioning a new relationship, and a guilt-stricken Liam wanting to come clean to his brother but trying to protect his fiancé and hurting him in the process. Somehow the writer managed to weave those stories in and out of the storm context deftly enough that they all spooled out realistically.
Watching this week was extra fun because Jared Padalecki and some other cast members live tweeted along with the fandom, adding some behind the scenes insights and some priceless dad jokes. For those of us who watched Supernatural for many years, Walker sometimes feels like a fandom reunion, since many Supernatural fans are now watching and interacting around a new shared TV show.
The episode opens, as it often does, with the core family – Walker and his kids. It’s a brief scene but it shows the progress Cordell has made in keeping to his resolve to be a dad to his children, as he makes pancakes and even flips them deftly.
His newfound comfort in that role is contrasted with what Liam is explaining to Micki about how his brother was after Emily’s death.
Liam: You didn’t know him then…constant driving obsession that sucked the life out of every second of his day and consumed him. He was convinced that Carlos didn’t kill Emily. We said that there was no conspiracy. We were wrong.
Liam, as Micki points out, looks like shit. Consumed with guilt and the burden of the secrets he’s been keeping from both his fiancé and his brother – that Carlos isn’t the killer and that the bad guys who probably did kill Emily are now after him and Capt. James. And willing to blow up their car to get to them. He’s avoiding Bret so he can keep up the lie, sleeping in his office, unshaven and hollow eyed. Keegan Allen really made me feel for Liam, his guilt and indecision showing in the way he holds himself, his expression, his physicality as well as his words.
Liam insists he won’t risk putting anyone’s life in danger and is terrified that they could have been followed back to Austin. He does have a confidante in Micki now, though. Her research shows that forensics on the bomb matches Northside Nation’s MO. (I’ll admit that name for the gang makes me want to either roll my eyes or giggle each time someone says it, especially after that weird truck round up of kids playing soccer scene, but it is what it is).
Micki: It was them, Liam. I understand how hard it is, but this isn’t your secret to keep. Walker needs to know. That person is now targeting his brother and his captain.
Liam promises that he’s going to tell Walker the truth, and we can all imagine just how difficult that conversation is going to be – for both of them. And Liam is much too preoccupied with his own stormy relationships to listen to the news warning about the actual storm coming.
The rest of the family misses the warnings too, wrapped up in something much more pleasant – the school dance that Stella and Augie are both going to. Abeline helps Stella get ready, a little scene that touched me with its melancholy (Emily not there) but also its resilience (her grandmother stepping in).
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.
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.
After a pilot that caught my interest in some surprising ways, the second episode of the new CW show ‘Walker’ managed to sustain that interest, mostly by continuing to explore the characters’ psychological reactions to loss as well as give us more insight into their relationships. There was also a case-of-the-week, which gave us some exciting moments, and a little progress on the main mystery of what happened to Walker’s wife, Emily (Gen Padalecki), but what sticks with me most are the emotional beats.
And an odd craving for queso.
There was again a flurry of articles and interviews about the new show, including Keegan Allen (Liam) taking over the CWWalker Instagram account for the day. He clearly had a lot of fun doing that, with many of the cast also getting into the act, and even including some fanart. I’m only including one because I saw @StabGigi say she was thrilled to have her awesome art included. It’s clear the cast and crew are getting along great, and the same sort of cooperative atmosphere that Jared and Jensen established early on for Supernatural are something that Jared has clearly taken to Walker.
Before we get to the emotional moments of the episode, a brief case-of-the-week synopsis: A man is killed by a falling beam in a raging horse barn fire, along with some hapless horses, which Micki (Lindsey Morgan) is assigned to investigate (interrupting her romantic interlude with boyfriend Trey (Jeff Pierre), alas). She pulls her partner in, though we quickly find out from Captain James (Coby Bell) that Walker is technically not a Texas Ranger at the moment, since he needs to be re-certified. Walker (Jared Padalecki) and Micki ace the shooting range part of the partner recertification, but Walker freezes when it’s time for the riding portion, spiraling into memories of Emily gifting him with a custom tooled saddle and saddlebag with their initials carved into the leather. Despite Walker being ‘off the case’, he and Ramirez have already begun to think of each other as partners, so she consults with him on the case anyway. They eventually figure out that the stable owner burned it down to kill his injured racehorse for the insurance money before anyone knew Texas Nightshade was hurt and losing value. The jockey, however, couldn’t go through with it and let the horse run free to save it. Walker is able to find the horse and overcome his hesitation just in time to ride in to save the day, pulling Micki up behind him so the two of them can stop the bad guys from getting away. Captain James counts the heroics as Walker passing his riding test, which I have to agree with. Pretty impressive!
Meanwhile, in the emotional part of the episode, Walker is still having frequent flashbacks to happier times with his wife, remembering when she gifted him with the beautiful saddle that he can no longer bring himself to use. It’s poignant and painful that he carries it around in his pickup truck but can’t bring himself to ride with it. When he goes back to the house that he and Emily shared, he pictures them there as a family when the kids were young, establishing a home with the kids’ handprints in the concrete on their front walk. The handprints are still there today, but much like the saddle, it now brings Walker more pain than joy.
Once again, I appreciate the way this show explores grief. It is painful, and while we want to hang onto the things that help us remember our loved ones, it also hurts to do so. I get the feeling that Walker’s past year has been spent mostly avoiding those memories and the feelings they bring, so now that he’s back, he’s finding them all fresh and raw and overwhelming. I feel for him, even when he’s screwing up and hurting other people with his not-so-healthy coping mechanisms. He’s suffering, and Jared Padalecki shows us that vividly.
Walker’s ongoing struggle to reconnect with his family continues to be excruciatingly slow and difficult – which also seems realistic. The fact that he’s constantly distracted by his own emotional turmoil and thoughts of the past means that he’s not very good at being present for his children – which is exactly the problem they’ve had with him for the past eleven months. Instead of joining the family for breakfast, he goes to his old home first (finding beer bottles and a window pushed out, evidence of Stella’s propensity to come back and party there in an effort to deal with her own grief) so he arrives late to family breakfast. He hasn’t been there to be part of their established routines – which are so important to children who’ve experienced loss and trauma – so his parents and brother have stepped into all those roles. Liam is the one who knows that Stella has a game that day and the one who takes the kids to school. It’s clear that Walker wants to do those things now that he’s back, but he’s still not paying the kind of attention that those responsibilities require, and the kids are reluctant to trust him and depend on him.