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,”
The CW’s ‘Walker’ aired a dramatic new episode last week, and ushered in some big changes that will continue to play out for the second part of the season. The episode is titled “Freedom” and in a sense, that’s what many of the characters got – sometimes in a way they absolutely did not want.
They also gave us Jared Padalecki in a white tee shirt and Jeff Pierre without any shirt at all, which is just a comment on the aesthetic beauty of this show like I comment on every week, honest.
An Awkward Welcome Home
The episode begins with Hoyt’s welcome home party at the Side Step, Cordell and Augie getting the place ready while Micki and Trey keep watch in the parking lot so they can surprise him.
Augie is making welcome home videos for Hoyt, attempting to tape his father’s message while Cordell is busy trying to figure out what to text Geri. He keeps typing and then deleting, increasingly anxious. The other video messages to Hoyt are heartfelt, including a clearly joyous Abeline and Geri saying that Hoyt deserves good things, which just makes Cordell feel more guilty and conflicted. When he finally tries to record his message it’s incredibly awkward, starting out calling Hoyt “my best friend, a brother to me” and continuing to something about him sparking joy in Walker’s life. He gives up in exasperation.
I’ve said it before – about Sam Winchester as well as Cordell Walker – but Jared Padalecki can pull off the comedic aspects of his characters so well. I appreciate that in a show that can be either suspenseful or angsty, as this one can.
Micki and Trey wait in the car for Hoyt and Geri to get there, Trey putting on her hat and teasing about how good it looks on him (it does). Micki reassures him that his TBI struggles haven’t made him unreliable or changed how she feels about him, reminding him that he can rely on her for a change.
Micki: You are the most reliable person in my life
I like that they’re continuing to follow Trey’s TBI (traumatic brain injury) story line instead of magically wrapping it up too quickly.
Geri and Hoyt pull up, him assuring her that he’s “going legit” because she deserves more, and her clearly avoiding him, turning away and putting on lipstick before she goes inside. He senses something is wrong.
Hoyt: You got someone you’re trying to impress here?
As they walk in, he asks her again, did he do something? (Other than being incarcerated?)
She says no and he believes it (because he clearly wants to, and that’s what we all do when we just desperately want to believe something is true).
Cordell sneaks up behind them and knocks Hoyt’s hat off, then tackles him to the ground, saying it’s payback (for that scene we saw in one of the first episodes). They laugh, because wrestling is clearly a thing for them (ala the Winchesters), and then they hug (also ala the Winchesters).
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 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).
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.