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 fun moments, and a little progress on the main mystery of what happened to Walker’s wife, Emily, but what sticks with me most are the emotional beats.
Before we get to those, 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 is assigned to investigate (interrupting her romantic interlude with boyfriend Trey, alas). She pulls her partner in, though we quickly find out from Captain James that Walker is technically not a Texas Ranger at the moment, since he needs to be recertified.
Walker 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 appreciated 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 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.
Walker steps in it again by announcing that they’ll move back into their old house without asking for Stella and August’s input, which makes them feel like their needs are being pushed aside.
Stella: Does it matter to you where we wanna live?
August, ever the peacemaker: I’m good wherever you are, Dad.
Liam takes the kids to school and Walker is left in the now-empty kitchen, alone, not even able to find his customary mug. The mug is an obvious but somehow effective metaphor for just how out of place Walker is in his own family, unable to find where he fits now after so long away. Again, I felt for him, even though his kids are both reacting in realistic ways to what they’ve been through.
Stella is in full-out rebellion mode, sneaking out to party with her friends and taking a stand with the soccer coach. Stella and Isabel are both benched from actual soccer games since their arrest, something that has had serious consequences for Isabel’s family now that “ICE is sniffing around.” However, with a recruiter coming that night, the coach puts Stella back in, but not Isabel. Stella refuses the preferential treatment.
Stella: It’s gross that he’d treat you differently than me. I’m not winning him a game. If you’re not playing, neither am I.
The treatment of these real-life issues is earnest and sometimes a bit on-the-nose, but nevertheless I’m glad the show is exploring them. Sometimes popular media is a great way to expand perspectives without raising defenses, and that’s how change can be made.
Stella can sometimes seem like the stereotypical “whiny bratty teenager” but so much of her anger is understandable. She lost her mother, a huge trauma, and then she lost her father too, when he essentially abandoned them. Yes, it was for a ‘legitimate’ purpose, for his job, and he needed to work to support the family.
But he probably didn’t need to be out of touch and under cover and physically away for almost a year. Even if he did, as his child, her anger would be pretty normative. No one ever said it was easy being a parent, after all.
Meanwhile, August signs up for AV club, wanting to follow in his mother’s footsteps and continue the interest in film and photography that he shared with her. He also seems to want to sign up for some more time with a girl named Ruby, which made every “Supernatural” fan go oh no, be careful, August! (For those who aren’t SPN fans, Ruby was the name of the demon who manipulated Jared Padalecki’s character, Sam Winchester – and how Jared and Gen Padalecki met).
August’s coping strategies for dealing with his mother’s death are in marked contrast to both his father’s and his sister’s. He’s described as sensitive, and he’s more in touch with his emotions than they are even though he holds them in. Instead of avoiding his feelings about his mother, he’s actively getting in touch with his fond memories of her, even making an autobiographical film to help him remember and celebrate her.
Walker’s relationship with his little brother, Liam, is also explored more in this episode. It seems like they were close before Emily’s death and Walker’s sabbatical, but there’s now tension between them. Liam stepped up to take care of the kids and is also angry that Walker was gone so long, and quickly runs out of patience for his brother’s level of distraction now that he’s back. Walker misses their planned lunch, and then doesn’t answer his phone, so Liam has to go find him to let him know that Stella didn’t show up to her soccer game.
That does give us a chance to briefly meet Liam’s fiancé Bret, who joins him for lunch because he assumed Walker wouldn’t show – and wants to get them both out of Austin and to NYC (and possibly away from the kinda controlling Walker family). That’s sure to be fodder for drama eventually.
Walker and Micki find Stella throwing another party at their old house. Stella stands up to her father too, telling him that she shouldn’t get to play in the soccer game if she messed up, and maybe it shouldn’t be so easy to get a second chance – for him as well. When Walker insists that this is still their home, Stella throws some old resentments at him mixed up with intense longing for her mother.
Stella: Are you leaving books on my bed that are important to talk about with me? Or are you gone, like always? You weren’t here the first time around. I wish Uncle Liam had gotten custody of us when he tried.
Stella is afraid to trust her father to be there for her, no matter how much he says he wants to. Her revelation about Liam enrages Walker, who confronts his younger brother and shoves him to the ground. Soon they’re wrestling, for real this time, throwing each other to the ground and yelling accusations.
Walker: You tried to take my damn kids? You had no right!
Liam: You went dark, that’s negligence! Mom and dad agreed. I didn’t want them to be orphans, did you? I wanted to protect them. Even now you’re not here. They need you, and you’re chasing ghosts!
Walker insists that some things just don’t add up, but Liam doesn’t back down, grabbing his big brother by the neck to try to make him listen.
Liam: What answer could possibly satisfy you? It’s never gonna make sense that she’s gone. You will lose everything if you don’t stop searching for something that’s not there.
Padalecki once again does an amazing job of showing us Walker’s pain and frustration, and Keegan Allen similarly shows us both Liam’s anger and protectiveness and his love.
Walker’s relationship with his friend Geri is also touched on a little. He goes to the bar after he’s unable to get on the horse and pass the certification test, and bonds with Geri over how much they miss Emily. Walker tries to make a joke of “I may not be quite right in the head,” but he also more seriously confides that when he’s at home, he can’t think about anything but his wife and what happened.
In the exposition of this scene, we find out a few more details about what Emily was doing at the border. Walker told her how not to get caught when leaving food and water there for migrants, and how to avoid the cameras.
Fandom immediately passed around some news articles about this real life situation. People do try to help by dropping off food and water at spots along the border, but they are targeted for arrest by border patrol agents, who also sometimes destroy supplies left for migrants. Again, it’s an important real issue to tackle in fictional media, that may raise some awareness.
We also confirm that Emily was with Geri that night. And Walker’s confusion about why Emily’s eyes were closed when they found her? Geri solves that mystery, saying that she did it, that she couldn’t leave her like that.
Geri: To that, at least, you have an answer.
We get a little more insight into Ramirez and her relationship with Trey in this episode too, though I’m hoping we get lots more. He eventually tells her that he’s not signing on to serve again and thus will be around a lot more, and while she’s happy, she’s also apprehensive.
Micki: I’ve never really done this, have always been pretty solo. I’m one of the first women of color [Rangers] ever and I know things have changed, but you know change doesn’t happen quickly.
Trey: So I’m a distraction? What, only a little? (He takes off his shirt and holds out her hat in a well done moment that explains why Keegan Allen kept calling Jeff Pierre the cutest cast member in his Instagram takeover yesterday).
The show is slower to tell us much about the other regular cast. I’m accustomed to “Supernatural,” which for most episodes had a core cast that was quite limited. The upside of that is that we got to know those few characters intimately, starting from fairly early on. “Walker” has a large ensemble cast, all of whom have the potential to be interesting characters, but it’s going to take quite a few 42 minute once-a-week episodes to get to know them.
Captain James is one of those potentially interesting side characters. When he tells Walker that he needs to be re-certified, he also criticizes him for his facial hair. You get the feeling that’s part of Walker’s refusal to do things ‘by the book’ and that part of the dynamic between Walker and his new boss will be a struggle over how things are done.
Micki (deadpan): Maybe you should’ve shaved.
(Lindsey Morgan and Jared Padalecki are both excellent with humor, especially the little half under the breath comments like that)
Walker when informed that he has to be re-certified and Micki reminds him that they have to take the test together, for partner accountability: I’m a little testy… See what I did there?
Both those little asides landed perfectly, thanks to Morgan’s and Padalecki’s delivery.
James points out that it’s his first year as captain, so he can’t let things slide. (He’s dealing with similar pressures to Micki, both feeling like they have to be extra perfect just to counteract the stereotypes that predict their failure. Both James and Ramirez are also more aware than Walker of how much is wrong with the current culture and how much law enforcement is part of that.)
James: We need to do better, I can’t cut you any slack. We have a chance to be on the right side of history.
He’s also not very happy that Walker is once again looking into the footage from border control, since someone confessed to Emily’s murder already. Walker uses James’ own words back at him, reminding the captain that “sometimes we get things wrong.”
James: Your family has been waiting on you all this time – that’s where you get things right.
It’s a nice exploration of what I hope is an ongoing theme for the show – that most of us, and most of our institutions, do in fact get things wrong sometimes. The key is to recognize that when it happens – and try to fix it.
Walker appeals to me mostly as psychological drama, but it is still a show about Texas Rangers, and we got some impressive action scenes that reminded us that Jared Padalecki and Lindsey Morgan can be badass. They both kill it at the shooting range.
Walker: Still got it.
Walker takes his driving test like it’s some kind of test of his own badassery, roaring around the cones and leaving the poor woman administering the test beside him clutching the door handle and looking more than a little terrified.
(For “Supernatural” fans, it was great to see Jared get the chance to spin out and drive fast for a change, and it also reminded me of the iconic scene where Dean Winchester does a reverse 180 in the Impala and the woman sitting beside him looks like she’s petrified and impressed simultaneously).
Walker (cheeky): Did I pass?
We see the growing closeness and understanding between Walker and Ramirez in this scene too, as she watches and can’t hide her gleeful appreciation of what he’s doing.
“Walker” is also a Western, after all, and in this episode we get to see more horses. That makes me happy, since horses are the most beautiful animals in the world in my humble opinion. After Walker can’t bring himself to ride for the recertification, his own discomfort spooking the horse, he confesses to Micki that he’s carrying a sugar cube in his pocket for the next time.
He also tells her, in a rare moment of openness that shows the partners’ increasing trust, that “I’m stuck, there’s no place to fit back here. The horse, the saddle, it just makes me remember that night.”
Ramirez empathizes, even though she has no solutions, but she tells it like it is.
Micki: I’m guessing you’ll always remember.
That’s the thing about grief, you WILL always remember. Grieving is not so much about forgetting as it is about adapting. About eventually being able to remember the person you’ve lost with both fond memories of the past and still some sense of sadness over not having them with you for the future. Walker’s not there yet in his journey, but Micki is right.
Walker makes some progress in his own adaptation in this episode. We see Texas Nightshade wandering down the main drag of Austin, and someone has to catch him. Walker volunteers, while Micki goes after the bad guys. Walker is slowly finding himself, and reclaiming parts of his identity that have been challenged.
Walker: I may not be a Texas Ranger, but I’m still a cowboy.
Everyone watching: Damn right!
He grabs his rope, follows the horse’s tracks, and catches up to him after a very pretty scene of long-legged Padalecki walking through a stream bed.
Walker puts the sugar cube to good use, bridles the horse and pets his nose.
Walker: Yeah, you’re ready, let’s do this.
He’s speaking to himself as well as the horse. As Micki and James are in a gunfight, Walker gallops up, with one hand smoothly pulls Micki up behind him in the saddle, and they race after the bad guys. Micki leaps into the car and kicks their asses, and they don’t get to the plane or make their escape. Teamwork!
I’m guessing that part was stunt riders, but damn, that was an impressive scene!
Walker gets his recertification, and his identity as a Texas Ranger, solidified. He also makes some progress with his family and solves another part of the mystery. August gives his dad the gift that Emily was planning to give him on Father’s Day – a wooden case of poker chips.
August: She kept a few of the chips so she could show people.
Walker pulls out the one he’s kept in his pocket all this time and replaces it. (There are still a few missing, it looks like, so hmmm).
Walker opens up a little to his son, saying he’s turned around about a lot of things right now.
August is the kid who tries to be the parent, and it breaks my heart. He pats his father on the back, reassuring him.
August: I know, dad, we’ll figure it out.
Shades of Dean Winchester, for you “Supernatural” fans out there.
Having learned at least a little from his mistakes (and listening to his brother), Walker gets up earlier the next morning and is cooking breakfast as Stella comes down to the kitchen. She gives him the cold shoulder when he asks her if she’s seen his favorite mug, and Walker manages to do some pretty inspired parenting, pulling out his phone and texting her.
Butterbean, have you seen my mug?
Don’t call me that.
I should have asked where you want to live.
I miss mom so much.
Stella gets up and pulls his mug out from a drawer, explaining that it kept reminding her that he was gone, so one day she just put it away.
Walker’s willingness to acknowledge how he’s been messing up to both his children is a first step to healing the rift between them, and opens the door to Stella going with him to dig up the handprints on the walk of the old house, side by side. The block cracks as Stella digs and she crumples, bursting into tears.
Walker: It’s okay, just because it’s broken doesn’t mean we can’t take it with us.
She cries in his arms, finally letting her father comfort her.
It’s a little heavy handed with the ‘just because it’s broken’ line referring to all of them as well, but it’s still a nice sentiment. Just because someone is gone or something is gone doesn’t mean we can’t take the memories with us, and hang onto the happy times. Grief adaptation is a mix of hanging on and starting over, and the Walker family is traversing that back and forth.
Walker’s mom reminds his dad that even adult children need some attention from their fathers sometimes, and that Walker, like August, keeps a lot inside. That prompts Bonham to check on his son, and bring him something he made for his son: a new saddle, with a new saddlebag.
Bonham: Sometimes getting back to normal might mean starting fresh.
Walker (emotional): It’s beautiful, Daddy.
That’s the starting over part of grieving, and it’s a poignant little scene. Also the “Walker” fandom is enamored with how 6’5” Walker calls his father “Daddy.” For reasons.
The final scene actually made me tear up, not gonna lie. Stella and August are watching the film he’s put together, “What Texas Means To Me” by August Walker. It’s scenes filmed by his mother, as she was teaching him photography. The whole family when the kids were little, August learning to ride, Walker holding the kids while they made those handprints.
August: I wanted to start with what she saw.
Walker struggles, the memories overwhelming, but he pushes through it and joins his kids instead of running away. There are tears in his eyes, but he manages a small smile.
Before we end, a few shallow notes:
Micki and Trey’s interrupted romantic interlude gave a grateful fandom Ramirez in a sports bra with her hair down and Trey pulling off his shirt to tempt Micki to stick around and making the rest of us feel just as tempted. Walker’s propensity for single layers and well-fitting jeans after fifteen years of Sam Winchester’s shirt-flannel-jacket combos and baggier jeans are also widely appreciated.
Bonus points for us finally getting to meet Liam’s handsome fiancé, Bret, and for some Walker brothers wrestling as though they were Winchesters. And because I think horses are just plain gorgeous, more bonus points for Texas Nightshade roaming the streets of Austin and Walker and Ramirez galloping to catch the bad guys.
Once again, I enjoyed this episode. Points for combining some humor with the drama, and for the beautiful shots of horses and Austin. Points for getting the emotional beats right and undertaking a realistic exploration of grief and loss and how we humans react to those. I’m enjoying watching Micki and Walker’s partnership solidify and damn that galloping in to save the day scene was memorable.
There were still points where the music was distracting and/or too loud, but not as many as in the pilot. And some things were heavy-handed, but the points the show made were worthwhile. There were also a few “Supernatural” shout outs, which I had complicated feelings about.
The initials carved into the saddlebag were immediately familiar to “Supernatural” fans as a call-back to Dean and Sam Winchester’s initials carved into the Impala, and later into the table at the bunker. That’s an image with a lot of emotional resonance for me, and I’m still not done missing “Supernatural,” so my knee jerk reaction was NOPE. Then again, I do love that Jared’s still missing “Supernatural” too, and the call backs are a way to convey that.
Where will we go from here? I think the fact that both mysteries that Cordell has been chasing have been solved so quickly means that bigger ones will no doubt take their place, so I’m curious to see where that takes us. But mostly I want to see how these characters continue to deal with the complex challenges and losses and emotions that make them seem very human.
See you next week for “Walker” Episode 3, Bobble Head!