This was another “Walker” episode that was well-paced, with a lot happening but not so much that it felt jampacked or overwhelming. Jared Padalecki’s former “Supernatural” co-star 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 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.” At times, Stan 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.
Back at the Walker house, there are more discussions about feelings and which ones are acceptable and which should be shared or kept to oneself. Stella urges Augie to tell Ruby how he feels. Bonham and Abilene discuss telling the rest of the family about his diagnosis. While he’s still reluctant (those masculinity tropes again…), Bonham is evolving just like his son. He’s already realizing that Stan Morrison is wrong about not getting emotional, and that suppressing your emotions can get you into trouble.
Bonham to August: It’s best not to keep things bottled up, trust me.
This episode was rich in these kinds of subtle themes that make my psychologist brain happy. There’s a reason they call it toxic masculinity, and the demonizing of feelings, especially ones that are not anger or aggression, is part of why it’s so toxic.
Bret is back (yay!) though he and Liam are not back together. But there’s easy banter between the two of them, and the rest of the Walker family is clearly happy to have Bret in the kitchen hanging out again. The episode takes place during the school’s ‘Spirit Week’ as summer vacation is almost starting, and that means senior pranks and school spirit and telling people how you really feel. Hence Stella’s encouragement of Augie. Liam recalls Spirit Week mostly fondly, but he also remembers the reaction when he came out as gay.
Liam: Half the school wanted to apologize for how they treated me when I came out, and the other half wanted to hook up before going off to college.
Bret is a little skeptical about the impact of a week set aside to express feelings.
Bret: So, do people just talk about how they’re gonna change or do they actually do it?
That was a great line, and not just about Spirit Week.
Liam: Are we still talking about Spirit Week?
And somewhere in there, Abeline gets in a great line herself. Her relationship with Bonham seems to be healing, and she’s got an appreciation for her family that Molly Hagan makes crystal clear in small moments as she’s watching them just go about their everyday activities. There’s a wistfulness in her expression, and a fondness. Gratitude for what they have, along with a realistic appraisal of what can be lost at any moment and what they’ve all lost already.
Abeline: Things do get better with age.
Some things do, she’s right. And you rarely hear that on a TV show on the CW. As any “Supernatural” fan can attest.
Trey and Micki are also dealing with the impact of cultural norms, as Trey’s mother comes to visit and immediately starts laying out some other beliefs and values that can also be damaging – masculinity doesn’t have the corner on toxic norms, after all.
Mom: Trey, she is beautiful. Wouldn’t the two of you make some beautiful babies…
That last shot is a great one by director Richard Speight, Jr., aptly right over his credit.
Micki realizes she missed a few of her birth control pills and takes two, which clearly makes Trey anxious. The couple aren’t entirely on the same page, with Trey seeming more ready than Micki for commitment and children.
Micki: I’m not ready yet but I’m up for practicing!
I enjoy Micki, and I thought this part of the story line was well done. Missing a few birth control pills is such a realistic little detail, but one you rarely see included in this kind of show, and the fact that Micki and Trey aren’t 100% lined up in their expectations right now is treated as something to work through, not a cause for tons of drama. They work it out, like couples do all the time. I think I’ve said this every episode, but I love how functional Tricki is.
(And I’m not even a viewer who tends to crave functional in my fiction!)
Stan and Liam give a press conference before their scheduled debate. Stan looks at some of the constituents gathered and fires off a “we only count legal votes here in Texas…” comment that again rang uncomfortably realistic.
He also takes every opportunity to get in a subtle jab at his opponent.
Stan: Of course, Liam here took off for NY the moment he got that diploma. A wayward son, maybe he should’ve stayed an outsider.
Every “Supernatural” fan watching: He said wayward son!!!
Liam is a fighter, though.
Liam: I had to come back after he made a mess of things.
A determined reporter, Byron, keeps asking them both about Carlos Mendoza’s exoneration.
Stan doesn’t want to answer at all; Liam eventually says that justice prevailed. Then suddenly a bomb threat is called in, and they have to clear the school, much to Stella and August and their friends’ dismay, in the middle of Spirit Week. Cordell and Micki go through the school to be sure it’s clear, finding a cow at one point as a moving (Moooooo-ving) up Seniors prank.
Cordell tells Micki he feels bad for the kids, that it’s been a tough year. Micki suggests that they really need someplace to unwind and have some food…
Cordell: I like how you’re thinkin’
Micki: Well, I am the smart one…
They invite all the kids to the Side Step, and Walker gets a chance to reminisce with Geri, about early failed relationships and high school romances, laughing together and reminding us of the longstanding bond the two have. It’s easy to understand why they’re so drawn to each other, especially now that they both have lost the other person who was “with them” through their formative years. Nobody else, other than the two of them, shares those memories, which are now more precious than ever.
Padalecki and Odette Annable have some nice chemistry together so that fondness comes through. It’s hard to say how much is based on who they are as individuals and how much is a response to loss and a need to hang onto someone who knew the person you’ve lost though.
Geri: Hey Cordi, when I left before…
Cordell: Geri? I’m glad you’re back.
So, they don’t really talk, but they seem to have reached an understanding anyway.
Micki finds photos of Cordell in the display case in the school, including one of him in a school play, and she is absolutely overjoyed at this discovery.
Micki: You were a theater geek?
Me: Shades of Sam Winchester!
Apparently, Becca Ferguson, a literal drama queen, dumped him.
Everyone: What was she thinking??
Also everyone: They couldn’t use an actual photo of Jared as a teenager instead of….that??
There’s also one of Cordell and Hoyt playing football, which makes for some understandable sadness.
Micki tells Walker about forgetting to take her pills (realistically prefacing it with ‘I don’t know why I’m telling you this, but…’ and confesses that she’s having trouble trying to figure out this whole work life balance thing.
Cordell: Two things. One, you’re kicking ass as a Ranger. Two, you’re never gonna find that balance. No one does.
(That’s another theme of this episode, trying to figure out your identity especially when – like all of us – you’re a bit of a hybrid. Everyone has to find that balance, but it’s rarely if ever perfect.)
Micki also picks up on Cordell’s manner as he texts with Geri, since it’s undeniably flirty.
The kids hang out and play air hockey or something, and Bel says she’s going to see her parents in Mexico for the summer and invites Stella to come, as they work on getting their friendship back on track and Bel crushes on August.
Augie, meanwhile, struggles with finding the perfect thing to say to Ruby. She asks him to sign her yearbook and he reads other notes that let him know that she’s moving away – and just then, she invites him over later, saying her parents are out of town.
Teenage code for come by and get more serious. What will Augie do?
Micki and Cordell end up in the auditorium where Liam and Stan were to have their debate, and they take advantage of the podiums to do some Spirit Week let your real feelings out interaction. Cordell asks how she felt about the things he did that got him in trouble.
Micki: I think they were excessive.
Cordell: Do you think I’m fit to wear the badge?
Micki: I think everyone should be held accountable for their actions, no matter their reputation or what they’ve been through.
Cordell: You think I shoulda quit?
Micki: No. You are a good Ranger. But I know you can be even better.
Cordell expresses himself too, after listening to her and taking it seriously.
Cordell: I’ve got a lot of dark in me, and it just took hold. I will do better, I promise. Might need your help.
Micki: Not going anywhere.
Both Ramirez and Liam are candid about their doubts as to whether Walker really was ready to come back, but both trust that he’s going to succeed with that ‘do better’ motivation.
The Rangers find the guy who called in the bomb threat, Travis Pike, an ex-con who served time for arson. Walker and Micki confront him and manage to knock the gun out of his hand and knock him flat. He reaches for the gun, but Walker stays in control this time and talks him down.
(I am unsure why someone didn’t kick the gun out of his reach though – wasn’t that a better idea?)
Walker: This doesn’t have to get outta control.
Once again, the show tackles a common circumstance that can go wrong way too easily. Travis is experiencing mental health issues, possibly psychotic and most certainly frustrated with being ignored and not listened to. A man caught in the system and not served well by it at all, which happens far too often – and law enforcement can overreact with tragic consequences in real life.
Travis: The DA wouldn’t return my calls, DPS dropped my case. People think because I messed up, I can be ignored. I just wanted someone to hear my side of things, but no one would listen.
Micki is able to de-escalate the situation so that no one gets hurt, including Travis.
Micki: I promise you, we will relay your message, okay?
Travis allows himself to be taken in without protest.
Travis: Thank you, that’s all I wanted.
Admittedly, things don’t often go that swimmingly and de-escalation isn’t actually quick or easy, but for a television show version, at least the message was there – that if law enforcement can do a better job of listening, better outcomes are more likely.
Micki’s not the only one listening; Cordell is too.
Cordell: That made me think about someone else who served his time and was never heard – Carlos Mendoza. We should’ve done a better job. I need to hear his side of things – I’m not going as a Ranger, but as a widower.
Stan offers to bring barbecue to the Walkers and hang out with them while the bomb threat is dealt with. He seems to genuinely want to be around them, but he needles Liam the entire time (and we now know he’s been keeping secrets about his involvement in Emily’s murder, so it’s extra weird that he wants to be there).
Liam talks about the system needing fixing, supporting sentencing reform and budget reform, and raising taxes as needed, which Stan scoffs at, accusing Liam of “reading from the liberal manifesto”. Even Bonham points out that Stan doesn’t seem to have any better ideas of how to get things done, though.
Stella asks Liam, would he have let her dad be a Ranger again?
Liam: I didn’t think he was ready, but I know that he wants to change and is trying to change.
Interesting that two of the people closest to Cordell did not think he was ready to come back. The show is trying to set that up so we’ll be truly afraid that Walker is going to lose it and go darkside, so I’m assuming that’s why Micki and Liam both articulate their doubts, but I also don’t think they’re going there. I guess we’ll see.
Ruby comes on to Augie at her house, giving him a drink and rubbing his knee and clearly hoping for a kiss, but Augie hesitates.
Augie: If we do something, you’re still leaving.
Ruby: You’re so analytical…
Augie: I’ll just think about what else could’ve happened with us.
Ruby: You think too much.
Augie: Yeah, I know.
But he sticks to his decision, even though he seems torn about it. (Honestly, that’s a tough one to make realistic – the person you’ve been crushing on forever is trying to seduce you and you say no? When you’re a teenager? I think Augie has good reasons for saying no, but that’s a tough call).
Augie: I really wish we’d tried, but I feel like it’s too late. Have a great summer.
As the episode nears its climax, determined reporter Byron (conveniently dropped off at the Walker ranch instead of driving himself for some reason) returns to ask Stan more questions, accusing him of being evasive and having something to hide. He points out that all the cases that were dismissed had ties to NSN – and Stan signed off on all of them. Hmmm.
The reporter continues to confront him, the confrontation turns to shoving, and Stan gives the reporter a push and he falls, hitting his head on a rock like always happens on TV and thankfully doesn’t happen nearly as often in real life. Stan gasps, trying to help him up, but blood gushes from his head and coats Stan’s hands. He stares at his hands in horror, and Speight gives us a symbolic shot of, literally, Stan with blood on his hands.
Abeline finds Stan scrubbing his hands later at the sink. He asks if Bonham is sick since he saw him take a pill earlier, and then seems to encourage her – confusingly, with seemingly genuine caring.
Stan: He’s sick, isn’t he? But you’re gonna get through this.
Abeline: Whatever happens with the election, you still have a place here.
It may not be well placed sometimes, but Abeline’s empathy for everyone just warms my heart.
Stan offers her the use of his place for her and Bonham to renew their vows, which again seems like genuine caring. He tells her to go all out (because life is short?)
She tells him that Cordell went to see Mendoza, and Stan immediately knows he’s in trouble. He stops to give Liam a message on his way out.
Stan: Whatever happens, you ran a great campaign.
Then he gets on his cell phone.
Stan: We got problems….
(I’m a fan of Speight’s close shots, often symbolic, and often of hands – which are so evocative and full of meaning at times.)
Abeline tells Bonham about Stan’s offer as they cuddle on the couch.
Bonham: You haven’t gotten any more subtle over the years but you’re right, we should tell the family.
He also agrees to renew their vows, to make some happy memories for their family.
Bonham and Abeline are sweet, but not too sweet; their relationship, like Micki and Trey’s, really rings true.
Meanwhile, Cordell visits Mendoza in the hospital, saying he’s sorry for how things went down.
Mendoza: It was my decision, for my family. I’m a dying man. You’re a father – can’t you understand that?
Walker says he should have asked more questions, and Mendoza replies with empathy.
Mendoza: The people who did this to you – they should pay.
Walker: She’s dead. Calli is dead.
He goes to leave, and then the realization hits him and he turns around.
Walker: You said ‘they.’
Mendoza tells Cordell that when Calli came to see him the last time in the hospital, a man was with her. Someone who seemed to be in charge, who put up the money.
Walker: What’d he look like?
Mendoza: His face is everywhere – Stan Morrison.
Walker looks at him in shock, then rushes out.
Micki brings flowers for Trey’s mom and banana bread for him when she comes home, and when he brings up the baby issue again, she’s quick to shut him down.
Micki: What kinda Victorian fantasy are you living out? I’m not pregnant.
He realizes that she’s relieved, and says that.
Micki: I do worry about the future – but not because it’s bad. Maybe because it’s good.
They clasp hands in solidarity and kiss, and in the kitchen, Trey’s mom smiles. Micki and Trey are good at working things out, and I enjoy that.
Augie joins his sister, who’s lying on the floor being a teenager (I remember doing the same thing, usually with loud music involved). Augie tells her that he bailed on Ruby, and she didn’t even want him to.
Stella: August the noble.
He scoffs, but she says she’s not kidding.
Stella: No, for real. You see more than what’s in front of you. You see things other people don’t when you take pictures like Mom did.
They’ve both seen way too much for their age, but they’re fortunate to have shared both good times and good parents as well as some unfortunate trauma.
Stella says she’s thought about writing to Trevor but hasn’t. I like the Walker kids’ relationship – not too saccharine that it’s unbelievable, but there’s a genuine supportiveness there between them.
Stella: Wanna sign my yearbook?
Augie: Only if you sign mine.
He reads one of the entries and makes a face. “Stella, your dad is hot?”
Stella: I know, gross.
(Apparently Kale Culley’s sister in real life wrote that – and it was a perfect little Easter egg for the Walker fandom, who would agree with her wholeheartedly).
A shocked and enraged Walker is driving back to the ranch in his pickup truck when another pickup truck runs him off the road. The truck flips over, and director Speight films it from the inside, from Cordell’s perspective, which was terrifyingly effective.
He sits there dazed and bleeding, looking very Sam Winchester, as two guys with guns come after him.
They force him to dig a grave, for the unfortunate reporter and supposedly for himself as well, which seems like something that Stan and NSN would never get away with, but anyway. Unfortunately for the two goons, this is one of those episodes that actually shows Walker being a badass. He takes them both out, competent and dangerous and more than a little scary – and more than a little Sam Winchester too.
He turns the gun on Stan, who throws up his hands and backs away.
Stan: Won’t this be an interesting headline?
Walker (menacingly): Oh, I’m not arresting you.
Stan: C’mon, you worked hard to reform yourself. You’re not this guy anymore…
Walker: Shut up.
He points the gun at Stan’s head.
Walker: Get in the truck.
I think we’re meant to be worried that Walker’s dark side has taken over, but in this case, his badassery seemed entirely called for – and I don’t think he’s going to shoot Stan, as much as he wants to. But I guess we’ll see in the next episode when Walker airs its first season finale.
Anyone who watched “Supernatural” knows that Jared Padalecki can pull off badass and a touch of dark side scary very well, and that it’s appealing as hell – so I was excited to see that side of Cordell here. All that competence? Mm mm mm. I hope we see more of it, along with Cordell who isn’t afraid to be in touch with his feelings or talk about them.
I don’t think Stan being the ‘bad guy’ was a surprise to many viewers, since he’s been ‘sus’ all along, but all the kudos to Jeffrey Nordling for making the character revolting and yet letting us see moments of vulnerability that create some surprising nuance there.
Kudos also to director Richard Speight, Jr., who gets better and better every time he directs. I’ve known Richard for a long time, and seeing his directorial success just warms my heart. He’s taking more chances on some innovative shots, and it’s paying off. I hope we’ll see Director Dick back in Season 2.
I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes in the final “Walker” episode of the season Drive, after a few weeks’ break, on August 12.