Somehow ‘Walker’ has reached its midseason already – and while this wasn’t technically billed as a midseason finale, it certainly felt like one!
The episode begins with a scene that’s really hard to watch – Walker at the medical examiner’s office to identify his wife’s body. Geri frantically tries to wipe Emily’s blood off her jacket and finally takes it off before she goes to stand with him, distraught. She asks if he’s told the kids yet and he answers that he will, “in time.” It’s an understandable reaction – when a loss is so gigantic, you almost don’t want to make it real by talking about it – and you don’t want to cause your children the same kind of incredible pain that you’re feeling.
James comes out to tell them to come in, and Geri clutches his hand, overlays it with hers, tearfully reminding him “I love you, buddy.”
Jared Padalecki (confronted with his real life wife playing dead on a slab) makes Cordell’s extreme grief and rage intensely believable. I couldn’t help but feel for Jared, having heard him talk about how hard it was to portray his previous character, Sam Winchester, in scenes where his brother (Jensen Ackles) had died. That was his real life best friend; this was his real life wife. Acting has got to be hard on the heart sometimes!
I had a difficult time watching Walker’s grief from my own perspective. Not only is Padalecki brilliant in portraying it, but I am still so raw from witnessing him portray Sam Winchester’s grief at the end of Supernatural that seeing him in a similar state again was almost unbearable. His half-hysterical “we’ve gotta get her out of here, it’s too cold” just broke my heart, the denial so understandable, so painful. James tries to say that revenge won’t bring him peace, but he’s not ready to hear it, breaking down as he touches Emily’s face for the last time. It’s such a similar moment of abject grief as Sam sobbing as he says goodbye to Dean, and when I was watching this episode live, I had to pause to collect myself. That says something really good about Jared’s acting, but ouch.
Jared was incredible filming both these scenes, but they are so hard to watch. I suspect they always will be.
Last week’s episode of Walker, titled “Tracks”, was written by the same duo who penned the previous excellent episode, Casey Fisher & Paula Sabbaga, and directed by Bola Ogun. Both the writers and the director delivered an episode with heart and more of those twists and turns that this show is perhaps becoming known for. Because so much happened in each of the storylines, I’ll try to break this up and follow each subplot. First up, Cordell and Micki and their deepening partnership (and their ongoing family relationship challenges).
Walker and Micki and Micki’s Mom: Love, Protection and Partnership
Cordell seems to be finally settling into being a dad to his kids, Augie cooking breakfast and Walker taking the time to tease both his teenage children (Stella and her dad imitating each other was adorable – I’ve said it before but it bears repeating, Jared Padalecki is talented at comedy).
Totally shallow gif of Walker’s back as he heads to the kitchen for breakfast with the kids. Sorry not sorry.
His skepticism about his kids’ romantic interests seems on point, including being skeptical about Ruby as the one who told Augie to crash the undercover operation. (I’m glad that isn’t being forgotten, because that was not a smart thing to do for a teenager who should have known better.) Stella is more concerned with texting Trevor and scheming to get him to come along on the soccer trip, diverting her dad with suggestions that they talk about something simpler — like gun control or his hearing. Touche, Stella.
Walker manages to burn his hand on the hot skillet (he’s a bit accident prone for a Ranger, but it humanizes the character so I don’t really mind). When he stops by Micki’s, Trey notices the bandage.
Trey: You hurt your hand again? You’re a little too committed to that bit…
I love the dynamic between these two.
Trey heads out to chaperone the soccer trip and Walker realizes that Micki is reeling, worried about her mother because a DWI hit and run doesn’t add up for Adriana, who Micki points out doesn’t even drink and whose “MO is accountability.” Micki hypothesizes that maybe her mom was falsely accused because she was “a Mexican American driving a fancy car”. I like how the show continues to put those possibilities out there, and that we see Micki’s resentment.
Walker and Micki’s partnership really solidifies in this episode. Walker offers to come with her to bail out Adriana (Alex Meneses), making it an official case, and Capt. James says take all the time you need. (Because James and Liam are headed to Mexico to investigate Geri’s disappearance and the art gallery where the money ended up. They’re both feeling terrible about lying to Walker.)
To Micki’s shock, her mother is not exactly relieved that her daughter bailed her out, saying that she shouldn’t have done that and that she’ll “take care of this myself.”
So much happened in this week’s episode of Walker, “Bar None,” that it feels impossible to recap it all. So instead, I’ll try to trace the twists and turns that the main characters – and the plot – took in 42 jam-packed minutes of television.
The main evolution belongs to Cordell himself, and it’s an evolution I’m enjoying tremendously. He starts out the episode defensive about the accusations of use of excessive force against him and the upcoming evaluation he’s set to undergo. He’s still falling back on the rationalization that the guy he attacked provoked it, as well as the privileged assurance that “everyone knows” that judges protect “the white hat”. He shrugs off the systemic bias with a “that’s how the system is” comment. This is all familiar from discussions we’ve all been having in the real world about qualified immunity and racism, but it’s powerful to see the white male law enforcement lead embody the problems we’re actually facing – and over the course of the episode, not only evolve and adopt a different perspective but also challenge some toxic masculinity tropes along the way.
I think a lot of people are surprised that ‘Walker’ is doing what it said it would, and isn’t afraid to go there. Showrunner Anna Fricke and Jared Padalecki have both said this is what they intended, but the show actually making it happen is satisfying to watch.
The other evolution we see in Cordell is his slow and painful progress in accepting Emily’s death and feeling the conflicting emotions that loss has brought. His struggle plays out against the metaphor of the Side Step itself, Emily’s favorite place that holds so many of Cordell’s fond memories of her. Walker stayed away from it and his family and friends to avoid those painful memories, as many of us are tempted to do when a loss feels overwhelming. At this point, the structure is failing, the foundation unsteady and unable to be an effective support – just like Walker’s coping strategies. He’s just not ready, at the start of the episode, to see it.
In the opening scene, Walker makes a flippant toast to a stuffed boar head on the wall of the Side Step, which takes us on a flashback to six years ago and Emily (Gen Padalecki) gifting him the boar’s head as the world’s strangest birthday present.
Hoyt (Matt Barr) in the past: Denise the deer.
Cordell (deadpan): It’s a boar.
You get the feeling Emily really was a bit crazy – and also that was something Cordell loved about her. I’m not a big fan of stuffed animal heads, let alone on walls, so this was not my favorite part of the episode, but I have to give the show points for being a little quirky. Quirky is good.
In the present, at the Side Step, Geri (Odette Annable) gives Cordell his mail, including the life insurance check from Emily’s death. They all realize it’s been a year, but Walker is determined to ignore that significance, although Stella and August want to honor their mother by doing her favorite thing – going camping. Cordell is planning to do it, for them, but refuses to acknowledge the emotional impact the anniversary is having on him.
Walker: It’s just a normal day, no different than any other day.
Denise the boar’s head: Falls off the wall.
Walker: Denise! You just had to make this about you…
The metaphors in this show are a tad on the nose, but Jared’s delivery of that line was so funny, I laughed out loud.
Geri informs Walker that she’s selling the bar, that she’s had a million offers from developers and it needs more work than she can do. He protests, but she says “it’s time.” Selling the bar equals moving on for Geri too. She’s ready, but Cordell is not.
Despite Walker’s insistence that it’s just another day, his level of upset at the thought of the bar being sold is a pretty good indication that he’s far from chill about it. Anniversaries of loss are always difficult. One of the things I’ve learned as a therapist is that sometimes we’re not even consciously aware that it’s a loss anniversary, yet we feel the impact anyway. Feeling raw emotionally is sometimes a clue that it’s the anniversary of losing someone or something, because we’re unconsciously aware of that loss. Walker goes so far as to declare the place a crime scene to get rid of a developer interested in buying it. Geri is pissed, accusing him of being in denial – and not just about the bar. She says she needs a fresh start, implying that maybe he does too.
Walker won’t hear it though. He insists he’ll fix up the place himself.
The metaphor holds, Walker wanting to throw his time and energy into constructing even sturdier walls against the awareness of his loss, telling himself that he can do that and have them hold a while longer. Maybe forever. Geri is skeptical.
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.
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).
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.