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.
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.
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.
For Supernatural fans, who are still grieving the loss of our beloved show after 15 years on the air, the premiere of the new CW show ‘Walker’ on Thursday brought a lot of complicated feelings. Many of us weren’t ready (and to be honest, would never have been ready) to say goodbye to Sam Winchester, so seeing Jared Padalecki inhabit a brand new character was exciting but also brought a fresh sense of loss, as though the new character made the loss of Sam finally real. On the other hand, it was wonderful to have another television show to anticipate, and for Thursday nights at 8 pm EST to be something special once again instead of a time I tended to wander around the house lamenting that ‘it feels like something’s missing…’). In the midst of continuing controversy about the way Supernatural ended, and a hashtag campaign to tank ‘Walker’ before it even began, the show itself managed to air with considerable fanfare anyway – making it the CW’s most watched Thursday in three years, even topping NBC’s airing in its time slot!
Despite being brand new, Walker didn’t get left out of the Bernie meme going around, which must be some kind of pop culture litmus test, right?
The network went all out in its promotion, with billboards and articles in every mainstream publication and Jared making the talk show rounds. That meant a fandom that’s accustomed to constant content and had been going into withdrawal was ecstatic to finally get some new photos of Mr. Padalecki – and oh, what new photos they were!
The Supernatural cast also went all out, with most of Padalecki’s former cast members sending him best wishes for his new show. On premiere day, former onscreen and always offscreen brother Jensen Ackles posted an Instagram message of support, telling Padalecki to “Go get ‘em, cowboy” and Jared and wife/costar Gen gave a shout out in return to Jensen and Danneel Ackles’ Austin-based brewery, Family Business Beer Company, on their CWWalker Instagram takeover. For Supernatural fans making the transition to new shows, the reminder that in real life they’re all going to remain good friends was somehow comforting. Padalecki has also said that he’s set on getting former costar Ackles to guest or direct on Walker as soon as his filming schedule for Amazon’s ‘The Boys’ allows.
I did not watch the original ‘Walker Texas Ranger’, nor am I a big fan of either westerns or cop procedurals, so Walker wasn’t a show that would have been on my must watch list if it wasn’t for Padalecki. That meant I went into it with measured expectations, and still feeling a bit sad about missing the Winchesters. There were mixed reviews from the media who received advance screeners of the pilot, but I like to make up my own mind anyway, so I sat down to watch figuring I’d just see where the show took me. I didn’t expect to feel as much as I did, and for me, that’s a very good thing. I didn’t even fall in love with Supernatural, my favorite show of all time, right away; I had to get to know the characters. They had to pull me in, make me want to know more about them. Fascinate me. And while I’m not pulled in entirely yet with Walker, I am interested. I want to know more. And that bodes well for a brand new show.
I have to admit, the second that I saw Padalecki back on my tv screen again, I teared up.