As I sit down to write a review of the first season’s finale, let me be honest about something. I wasn’t sure I’d love “Walker.”
As a “Supernatural” fan who had come to love Sam Winchester and the man who played him so brilliantly, of course, I was going to give Jared Padalecki’s new show a try. I’d worked with Jared to write an autobiographical book chapter in ‘Family Don’t End With Blood’ and gotten to know him a little, so I was thrilled when he was given this new show to film right in his own backyard. I had never watched the original “Walker Texas Ranger” either; it wasn’t my kind of show.
The first few episodes, I watched because it was Jared, and I was happy for him. But little by little, “Walker” grew on me. The characters began to be fleshed out, and the themes of the show began to make themselves clear, especially how grief and loss can impact a family – and sometimes tear them apart. My psychologist’s brain was intrigued. And then my heart got pulled in.
As the season progressed, Walker paralleled what was happening with the “Supernatural” fandom, a family also being torn apart by grief and loss. “Walker” became a refuge – a brand new little fandom that has not yet fragmented into ship wars and favorite character factions trying to tear each other apart on any given day.
The “Walker” fandom right now is a smaller group of fans who seem happy to watch the show and ship anyone and everyone and let everyone else ship different anyone’s and everyone’s without any shaming (imagine!) – or ship no one at all. Who happily post thirsty gifs of shirtless Cordell and Trey but are also excited to hear about props from the engaging crew or to celebrate that week’s guest star. Who are rooting for Liam and Bret to get back together – and also for Abeline and Bonham. Who celebrate Micki and Geri’s burgeoning friendship (or ship them, whatever…) and the way Augie and Stella can open up to each other a little.
Thursdays have been a drama-free let’s-all-watch-and-enjoy evening, with Padalecki and some of the other cast joining in to live tweet or do Instagram takeovers. It’s been FUN. I’d almost forgotten when fandom was FUN.
The cast and crew shared some little videos of Lindsey Morgan and Coby Bell wrapping their seasons, and it seems like they had as much fun filming the show as the fandom did watching it – even though it was clearly challenging to film during the pandemic. Many of the actors have talked about the positive atmosphere on the set and credited Jared with setting that tone – just like he and Jensen Ackles did on “Supernatural.” I feel oddly proud of that, watching that legacy be carried on.
I’m so glad that “Walker” is already renewed for a Season 2, so I have more of that to look forward to. For now, here are my thoughts on the Season 1 finale, as Walker wraps up its very first season.
The final episode picks up right where we left off, in a tense confrontation between Walker and former boss Stan. Walker confronts Stan over the two dead bodies, holding a gun on him, accusing him of forcing Carlos to confess to Emily’s murder. Stan keeps protesting that’s not what happened, though he admits he was there. He insists it was his idea to pay Carlos and that Cali forced his hand. (We will later find out that this is partly true, but the truth is also a lot more painful than Stan is letting on).
Cordell realizes that the dead reporter must have had something on him and starts to understand just how dark this scenario really is. Jared Padalecki makes this scene incredibly tense from the very start, as he brokenly asks Stan, “did you kill my wife?”
“Cordi,” Stan answers, using the familiar nickname – a reminder that this is a man who has been nearly part of the family for a very long time, making it an even worse betrayal when he denies it.
Cordell suspects Stan still has people on the inside who will help him, so instead of taking him in and following the rules, he orders him to get in the car and “drive”.
Shout out to the suspenseful music here, which amps up the tension without getting in the way of it. This episode really did feel like a roller coaster at times.
While Stan and Cordell are driving and all hell is breaking loose, the rest of the Walkers are at Stan’s (very large) house that he offered to them for the wedding vow renewals. The juxtaposition of the rest of the family all casually setting up flowers and decorations at Stan’s house while Stan is driving at gunpoint is striking.
Augie finds a key under a statue (as you do), and they let themselves in. As they take in the opulence, Augie wonders why, if he lives in a house this nice, Stan wants to be DA, which is a relevant question. Why does Stan have such a nice house?? Hmmm.
(Of course, the entire fandom has found Stan sus from the jump, so no one is actually surprised by the house).
The rest of the family is clueless and un-angsty for the Walker clan, Stella saying that her dad has “actually been pretty cool lately.” Stan even has a framed photo of Cordell’s swearing-in, with a pregnant Emily beaming proudly.
In another contrast to what’s happening with Cordell and Stan, Micki is getting along swimmingly with Trey’s mom. I’m glad about that, though the scene where you think she’s going to ask them something serious and then she asks if breakfast tacos are just for breakfast is….weird. I get we’re supposed to worry that she’s gonna ask about having kids, but then – that? Anyway, no they’re not, and she’s relieved about that and maybe she starts making some off-camera and that’s why she asked.
Micki is enjoying the feeling of being a family and decides to invite her moms/mom and aunt to join in. I’m glad about that too in terms of the characters but disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of the journey.
One of the challenges of an ensemble show is that you don’t always get as much time as you want with any particular storyline. I thought the painful and complicated story of Micki’s upbringing was well done and I would have loved to see more of how the three women struggled to forge new relationships with each other as adults, after such an upheaval.
I appreciate that Walker is not just a show about romantic relationships (one of the things I also loved about “Supernatural”). The show explores sibling relationships, friendships, family relationships. It looks at relationships between teenagers, grandparents, gay, straight, new, and long-term. It lets relationships be complicated, the way they are in real life. I value that, and I want to SEE it.
I think they missed an opportunity for us to see Micki, Adriana, and Mercedes process the hurt they are all inevitably feeling and work to come out on the other side. Seeing them all sitting around the table laughing together would have been so much more satisfying if we’d seen more of the struggle.
Back to the roller coaster… as Stan drives and Walker sets his jaw, rage barely contained every time he looks at his former friend and boss. Stan tries to justify his involvement with drugs and Northside Nation with a rationalization story of cops and judges having their budgets cut and pensions impacted, though he doesn’t sound like even he really believes the justification. He seems to realize that once you make a deal with the devil, you don’t just get to walk away. I guess he found out the hard way.
Stan: You know how hard it is to crawl out of an abyss?
Stan retains his sense of humor, however. He clearly doesn’t think that Walker really will kill him – or maybe there’s a part of him that doesn’t care and wanted to be caught. I saw a lot of Stan hate on my timeline and felt it too as the episode replayed what really happened, but I also thought that the script and Jeffrey Nordling made Stan a sad character too. I like that the show doesn’t paint him with a single color brush but lets us see some of his guilt and remorse and what seems like genuine affection for the family that ultimately his actions helped tear apart. The people who do horrible things can also sit around your dinner table and share a joke, no matter how much we don’t want to think that.
Stan: Don’t kill me but, we’re running on empty. Poor choice of words I know…
They stop at a gas station and annoyingly Walker isn’t very careful about keeping an eye on Stan or making sure he didn’t have any other phones (or weapons?) on him. (We do get a much-giffed moment of Cordell shoving his gun in the waistband of his jeans though, so I won’t quibble too much about this scene).
He doesn’t notice Stan get out a phone and do some texting until it’s too late, the text is out – “I’ve been taken hostage by Cordell Walker, Texas Ranger.”
Stan insists maybe he’s saving Walker from himself, still rationalizing like a pro. Walker realizes he’s trying to shift the narrative, make it look like a grieving Walker lost it and forced a confession from an old family friend. Walker tells him to keep on driving.
Meanwhile, a harried Capt. James tries to calm everyone down and keeps calling Cordell. He also interrupts Micki’s fun times with Trey and his mom.
Micki defends Cordell immediately, saying that he’s not returning James’ calls because he doesn’t want to disobey an order. She calls him back and he picks up for her, telling her that Stan has been working with NSN and they tried to kill him.
Walker: You’re the only one I can trust right now.
Micki (without hesitation): What do you need?
Partners. I didn’t always see enough of Micki and Cordell’s initial head-butting to make their evolution as true partners as satisfying as it might have been, but I’m glad they got there.
Micki goes to get Carlos and keep him safe, taking Trey with her to help.
Meanwhile, Abeline and Bonham are happy and flirty, coming up with remarried couples’ names for their signature drink – the Taylor Burton is better than the Wood Wagner, says Abeline. Hmm. Was that a dirty joke? If it was, yay – I’m all for the show letting the mature couple be sexy and romantic. You know, just like in real life.
Bret and Liam also connect a little more as they set the table and Liam ignores his buzzing phone until Bret finally tells him to go ahead and pick up.
August goes exploring in Stan’s house, which is a little weird. He finds, to his shock, the missing poker chips like the one that was found with Emily when she died. Kale Culley does an amazing job with this small scene – I so felt for August in that moment, as he takes in the implications of what that might mean.
Back on the drive, two police cars appear out of nowhere and corner Walker and Stan on the road. Walker orders Stan to stay in the car while he gets out, telling them that Stan is in his custody, and he doesn’t know who to trust. In fact, he quickly realizes the sheriff is awfully far out from Travis County – and that they didn’t call it in either. (Walker gets to be smart and competent in this episode and I’m here for it!)
The sheriff draws his gun, and a battle erupts, bullets flying and glass shattering.
Stan: They’re shooting at us!
Walker (deadpan): Yeah, I know, Stan.
There are times when I truly enjoy the Cordell and Stan story – Jeffrey and Jared work really well together.
The show turns the gunfight into a slow-motion music montage, and somehow it works perfectly, Cordell (and Padalecki) looking totally badass as he puts the cop cars out of commission and they get away.
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Cordell: You’re expendable now, Stan.
Stan realizes it’s true. NSN and his cops on the inside both do not want him to talk. They head to the border, tires screeching.
Cordi calls his family and asks to talk to his brother, asking Liam to make sure that Carlos can be kept safe. Liam promises that he’ll take care of it.
Micki and Trey go to the hospital and sneak Carlos out. Trey gets to pretend to be a doctor and pulls it off brilliantly, and Tricki make a good team as always. They get Carlos out just as armed men come for him, and take him to the Sidestep, where Micki fills Geri in and asks for her help.
Micki: I didn’t know who to trust.
A little step forward in Micki and Geri’s relationship too, which made plenty of fans happy.
Bonham reminds his son that they’re all there to help him, and Cordell comes up with a plan. He directs Stan to drive them to a familiar place and puts him in front of the entire family – who, as he says, deserve to know the truth.
Walker: No more lies. Tell us the truth. Confess. This ends tonight. Tell me how it went. Tell my family – no, you know what? Tell Emily’s family.
That was a Jared addition, apparently. The scene is hard to watch, as Stan finally comes clean and tells them (and us) the whole story. He insists that he wasn’t with NSN, that he wanted to save Emily.
Abilene isn’t having it.
Abilene: Tell me how I’m supposed to believe a single word you say, after everything. Tell me how I’m not supposed to kill you right now.
Augie shows him the poker chip he found at Stan’s house.
Bonham: You better start talkin’, you sonofabitch.
Finally, Stan does.
Flashback to Emily delivering water bottles to the border. Stan and Cali and NSN with bags of drugs hit a pothole and Emily goes to investigate. They see her and Cali realizes that Stan knows her. He really does try to stop Cali from shooting her, but as Emily runs away, Cali shoots her in the back, and she falls.
Walker (listening, tears in his eyes): There were two gunshot wounds, Stan.
And then we get the horrific rest of the story. That Cali forced Stan to deliver the death shot – to someone who was his friend, almost family. Gen Padalecki does a horribly wonderful job as Emily lays dying, and Jeffrey Nordling shows us both Stan’s anguish and also just how deeply he’s sold his soul. It’s a chilling scene, and hard to watch. As much as we wanted to know the truth, it hurts.
Cordell feels the same way. He needed to know the truth but hearing it – and imagining his wife’s last moments – takes a toll on him. All the kudos to Jared Padalecki for showing us all that pain. I have to admit, my eyes weren’t dry either.
Stan wasn’t lying that he wanted to try to save Emily, but he goes along with them anyway. It looked like she would have probably died out there anyway, also tragically, but it’s absolutely nauseating to watch Stan shoot Emily, apologizing as she looks into his eyes.
Stan: They owned me.
We see the phone ring beside Emily’s body – Cordell trying to call his wife. They don’t do a flashback to the pilot and I’m glad, because we all remember that frantic call, just like Cordell does. It makes the whole scene more tragic, more heartbreaking.
Augie: Why did you take the poker chip?
Stan says he doesn’t know, maybe to remind himself of what he did. He’s clearly a man tormented by what he did and yet still a coward, trying not to get caught.
Geri fills in the rest of the blanks in the story from back at the Sidestep, telling Micki and Trey how she found Emily that night. Odette Annable also does an amazing job showing us Geri’s panic and anguish, and her sadness in the present when she thinks of it. She also feels like she got herself in the middle of it, with NSN running money through her bar – and through Carlos’ art gallery.
Each family member confronts Stan and lets him see their anger and pain, and he eventually admits he’s a selfish bastard who couldn’t admit what he’d done.
Stan: I hated myself, but what makes up for that?
He admits he pushed Cordell to go undercover and out of town – that he even thought maybe the Rodeo Kings would end him, because he wouldn’t stop looking for Emily’s killer. At this point, it’s almost as though Stan is confessing to the worst things he can think of, just wanting it to end. Stan holds out his hands for Walker to cuff him.
I just have to reiterate one more time how good Padalecki and Nordling were in all these scenes. So hard to watch, but so so good.
After the commercial break, we’ve jumped forward in time, Walker and Stan in bulletproof vests, Stan ready to testify.
Walker: You ready to testify?
Stan: Hell yes. Against all of them.
And to confess what he did.
Stan, it turns out, won the DA race. He gives Walker an unlikely pep talk, saying that if he hadn’t stopped Stan, he probably would’ve kept going.
The tense music plays as they head to the courthouse. Micki and Carlos also approach, and then we see a sniper on top of the building aim at all four of them, going back and forth, waiting for a clear shot, unclear who they’re aiming at.
Gunshots ring out, Stan is hit and falls, wounded. The shooter runs away as they drag Stan inside, Walker screaming for a medic.
As he collapses, Stan grabs Walker’s vest, pointing out the two bullet holes, then he pulls him close and whispers something to him.
Every “Supernatural” fan watching: Shades of John Winchester!
Let’s hope it doesn’t take quite as long for us to find out what Stan said.
Walker looks shocked as Stan falls back and the medics arrive.
Captain James meets with Walker and Micki after, Stan in critical condition. They complement each other, James and Cordell giving Micki some credit. (Though I think Cordell deserves a lot of the credit himself – they want to tell us it was mostly Micki, but they haven’t done a lot of showing us that).
Cordell: He’s a little bit right.
James: I’m a lotta bit right.
Walker: I’m steady, I swear.
They shake hands and then James calls Micki back and asks her to close the door. While he wants Walker to stay put, James wants her to go undercover to find out who that sniper was and how much danger they’re in – especially if one of those hits was on Walker.
Micki comes back home still contemplating, to find Trey with a set table and a hot frittata (no, that’s not a euphemism).
Trey: No, I didn’t make it, I bought it. I’m not that perfect.
The fandom: Pretty damn close.
(The food on this show is a thing of beauty, by the way, showcasing the vibrant food cultures of Austin beautifully. Everyone wants queso by the time an episode is over).
Adriana and Mercedes arrive and join them and Trey’s mom.
Micki: Did you two come together?
Everyone laughs and smiles; Micki contemplates James’ undercover proposal.
Liam and Bret discuss whether he’ll run in the special election. Liam says he didn’t take a partner in NY because he wanted to concentrate on family, but along the way somewhere, forgot that Bret was supposed to be family.
He asks about starting over.
Liam: You wanna go on a date?
They are too adorable and flirty for words.
And so are Bonham and Abilene.
Abilene: I realized, we’ve already been saying everything that we needed to say. Are you ready to call the kids in and tell them?
He says yes that he should’ve done it a long time ago.
Bonham: Just give me one more moment. For us.
Some kind of romantic music plays, and the Walkers look into each other’s eyes with such understanding and devotion and – yes, passion! They get to share a real kiss this time, and I think I yelled “yay!” I ship them, what can I say? Mitch Pileggi and Molly Hagan have great chemistry.
Augie and Stella hang out at home, sharing some fond memories of the mirror in their parents’ bedroom that Stella used to tap trying to somehow walk through some portal and be somewhere else. It’s a nice moment between the kids, and then Walker comes home and finds them still awake, joining them on the couch.
Walker: What are we talking about?
They talk about having an adventure, not an escape.
Walker: You are far wiser than I ever was at your age, you both are.
Stella asks why he stays here, right where he grew up. He talks about how he went away when he was in the Marines, and also why he came back.
Cordell: I wanted to start a family, with your mom. And I needed to come back home. This is home. Our house. Texas is home.
Stella: Yeah. That’s why I stayed.
Cordell pulls his children in close.
They curl up on the couch together, no more awkwardness or resentments between them, feet up on the table as Emily watches from the doorway. It wasn’t entirely unexpected to see her there, and it was a nice full-circle moment, but it also made me tear up. They were good tears, for all this family has been through, and for how far they’ve come together.
The shots were a nice bookend to the scene in the pilot on that same couch when there was still so much distance between all three of them. And again, the show doesn’t show us the flashback, trusts its audience to connect the dots so it’s so much more powerful.
And then, as we’re all basking in that nice season finale ending, the camera pulls back – and we see, to our shock, that we’re watching the scene on a screen (a brilliant shot!) A shadowy figure is watching them. Multiple screens, keeping an eye on the whole family.
I was so shocked I think my mouth fell open. It felt very different for Walker, in terms of style and almost in terms of genre, more a “Supernatural” ending than a “Walker” one. But I loved it! Surprise me and I’ll be happy – and that surprised me. And now I can’t wait to find out who that is when Season 2 begins in October.
Walker has made its points across the first season, about systemic racism and corruption and when traditional masculinity can be toxic. Stan is a good example of how that corruption can sometimes look – not a stereotypical mustache-twisting bad guy, but a friend of the family who started down a slippery slope and didn’t stop.
Some points were fleshed out more than others – we heard more than saw Micki’s challenges around racism and sexism, and at times the show took great pains to tell us that Cordell was unhinged and making it a habit to use unnecessary force, but we didn’t see enough of that to convince me. Because of that, I sometimes just felt sorry for him as other characters ganged up on him as he was lost in grief or insisted he wasn’t ready to get back to work.
With only eighteen episodes (more than originally slated), it’s impossible to flesh out every storyline – especially when a show is ambitious enough to tackle so many – but the finale episode did a particularly good job with the ‘showing not telling.’ I’m looking forward to even more of that in Season 2.
Congratulations to Jared Padalecki, Lindsey Morgan, and the entire cast and crew of “Walker” for a solid first season that got consistently better. I appreciated the exploration of grief and loss, the complexity of the characters and relationships, and the beautiful Austin scenery and cinematography. The “Walker” finale was the strongest episode of the season, and I can’t wait for more!