In season three of Walker, Stella is on a journey to find herself and become an independent woman. This is a good idea and very fitting for her character given her age and position in the overall story, but, in my opinion, the execution on this plot has been sorely lacking. I do commend Stella on being brave enough to admit that she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life and deciding that college isn’t for her, but her near refusal to actually do anything in regard to finding that path in life she’s allegedly searching for got old very quickly. Liam dragging her into his questionable horse sanctuary isn’t a good move for either of them and her penchant for drama has come back with a vengeance. As far as coming of age arcs go, I’m a little disappointed and I think Stella deserves better.
I’d like to map out what I think a proper Coming of Age arc would look like for her and how this new timeline would change and possibly improve upon some of the plotlines surrounding it. I’ll finish off with an overview of how this arc would expand beyond what we’ve seen so far and into further seasons.
Our journey starts back in the early episodes of season two, when Walker gave us a very solid start to this arc for Stella. She’s about to graduate high school and, unlike the rest of her classmates, she has no idea what she wants to do with her life. In canon, this thread continues through the rest of the season, but it’s quickly overshadowed by the love triangle/pseudo-Romeo and Juliet story the writers shoehorned into her plot, which is the root of the problem in my opinion.
For the timeline I’m laying out here, I’m going to push her love life onto the backburner. It is still there and has a part to play, but her soul-searching journey remains center-stage. Stella has a life to figure out. She’s far too busy thinking about her options for college and prospective careers to worry about family drama and dating idiot boys.
In this version of events, Stella and Todd date and things go well at first. She’s rebounding from Trevor, and Todd is a great guy – someone she can maybe see a future with, whatever that might look like. On more than one occasion, we see her trying to engage Todd in conversations about their future (where they might go to college, where he sees himself in five years, etc.) but he always brushes it off with his carefree attitude. She’s willing to put up with it to a point, but things come to a head during 2.14, “No Such Thing As Fair Play”, when he won’t entertain a conversation about her emotional state after being forced out of her home. It’s during this episode that she finally accepts that she and Todd are at different stages of their lives and she needs to be with someone who’s a little more serious, so she breaks up with him.
After Colton opens up to her emotionally at the end of 2.14, Stella starts to confide to him more about her concerns for the future. They bond over their worries about their families and what the future might hold and find comfort in each other. This leads to them dating by 2.18 and going on their disastrous nature hike date. This is where things get interesting.
In 2.18, “Search and Rescue”, Stella shows off her first aid and nature survival skills by keeping Colton safe and alive after he falls and hits his head while rock climbing. At the end of the episode, she is complimented by the search and rescue helicopter team that got them out of the park and is told she might have a future in this field. In canon, this idea fell off the face of the earth by the time the credits rolled. In this alternate timeline, Stella’s contemplative look following that compliment actually leads to something. In the next episode we see her looking into First Responder and/or EMT training and qualifications. Then, when Cordell tells her how proud he is of her and how she’s grown in the season 2 finale, Stella takes that opportunity to tell him that she’s considering not going to college and pursuing this career path instead. Cordell is surprised but happy for her and goes off on his run, proud of his daughter for making her own path.
Now we enter season 3.
Because no one is perfect (not even Alternate timeline!Stella), 3.01 and 3.02 happen much the same as they do in canon. Stella’s confidence after taking steps toward figuring out her future further embolden her to investigate her father’s disappearance and give her no small amount of hubris in meeting up with Shannon with only her brother by her side.
3.03 goes a lot differently, though. In this version of events, Colton is a lot more secure in his future with Stella since she’s not waffling over what to do with her life. We also get a drag race for the Mustang that Dan coaches Stella on how to win (this change is both because Stella no longer has a heartbreaking “I’m sad and confused please pity me” speech to tug Shannon’s heartstrings, and because that was a dumb way to resolve this plot in the first place).
Cordell and Stella’s heart-to-heart after the return of the Mustang also changes drastically. Here, Cordell takes this chance to remind Stella that she’s a legal adult now and he can no longer protect her from the consequences of her actions. He’s proud of her for taking her life into her own hands and she’s grown a lot over the past two years, but he knows she has a history of being impulsive and making rash decisions. He’s afraid that one day, she’s going to do something she can’t come back from. She can’t be an EMT or a First Responder or even a functioning adult in this world if she continues to pull stunts like this. After everything she did and witnessed during this episode, Stella takes his words to heart and promises both him and herself that she’ll be more careful with her choices from now on.
This brings us to 3.04. Stella has completed all her training and certifications to be an EMT and she’s starting her first day of work. Everyone is happy for her, except for August, who manages to keep up a celebratory façade until she drives him to school on the way to work. Like in canon, he gives her the silent treatment and gives the same reasons when she questions him on it. She stayed home instead of going off to college so not only did he not get the bigger room he was expecting, but everyone’s been fussing over her new career aspirations for the past few months, and he gets nothing. As usual.
This kicks off the “August acting out because Cordell is ignoring him” plotline, but with a few tweaks.
In 3.05, August still throws the party because he feels neglected by Cordell (and the family at large). Stella still helps him when he gets locked in the supply closet and they get arrested together. However, Cordell pauses before blaming Stella for everything. Even though she has a track record of doing things like this, he also knows that her job is very important to her, just like his is to him, and that she wouldn’t risk throwing it all away on one last hurrah. So, he waits until he has the full story before enacting any judgement.
He pulls evidence from security cameras at the Side Step to prove Stella’s innocence and gets her cleared of all charges before the night is over. He also advises her to stay over at Colton’s, at least for the night, while he handles August’s punishment. He finishes the episode by giving his son a long lecture on respect and promises a long and hard road to forgiveness ahead of him.
From here, August’s behavior continues to spiral for two reasons: 1) He’s learned both from this experience and from Stella’s previous behavior that acting out is the best, most efficient way to get attention in this family even if it is negative; 2) He’s angry at Cordell for punishing him for the party when he let Stella off the hook with less than a slap on the wrist for worse in previous seasons. He’s snippy and rude with the whole family but especially with his father and sister. This leads to more punishment from Cordell and to Stella deciding to move out and help Colton house sit while she looks for more permanent accommodation.
Things come to a head during Thanksgiving once again. Bonham speaks with Cordell about August again, only this time he wants Cordell to figure out a new way to discipline his son because whatever he’s currently doing doesn’t seem to have any effect. Cordell isn’t sure what else he can do but he acknowledges that August has been getting more and more out of hand. Abby does snap at Cordell about August’s behavior for the same reason, which leads to August calling her a “nosy b*tch who needs to mind her own business” and telling her she’s not his mom. Everyone splits up after this, with Cordell and August going back to the farmhouse to talk.
Here, the conversation goes a little differently. Cordell has known about August’s behavior for a while and has been reacting to it with punishment. However, what happened tonight, especially August’s words to Abeline, has made him think that there’s more than just teen angst and drama going on. During his emotional breakdown, August admits to Cordell that he’s been struggling since Emily died but, in true Walker fashion, he kept it under wraps because he didn’t want anyone to worry about him when there was so much going on. But he couldn’t keep all that grief and anger locked up forever and now it’s come out in the worst way. Cordell apologizes for not realizing and being there for him sooner and promises to do better. But August still needs to serve penance for how he’s been disrespecting his family recently.
In 3.08, not much changes aside from Stella’s involvement. She and August made up their differences while Abeline was in the hospital so Stella stays near the ranch while Cordell and August use the trip to Dallas for father-son bonding time. While she’s at the ranch, she plays mediator between her grandparents and helps them deal with the situation they’re in. She tells Bonham to quit being so harsh on August because there were about 100 factors that went into Abby having a stroke, ranging from their diet to the many other stressful things that have happened in their family for the past couple of years. He can be upset with August for disrespecting his wife but blaming him for the stroke is out of line and Bonham needs to stop before he ends up in the hospital next with his own stress-related condition. She also advises Abby to follow the low-sodium diet and other recommendations from the doctor. Gramps may be taking it a little far with the vitamin regimen but Abby was lucky to come out of the stroke as healthy as she did and she needs to start taking her health a little more seriously given her age.
Coming into 3.09 and 3.10, Stella’s still a sympathetic ear for Liam to lean on in this trying time but she doesn’t have the time (or the confidence in him) to help with his horse sanctuary plan. She’s nicer than Colton about it but she advises him to talk it over with Bonham before he makes any rash decisions and rejects his offer to be a business partner.
It’s hard to say the ripple effects this would have on the rest of season 3 since we don’t even know the base canon, but I can say what Stella’s journey specifically would be. Aside from focusing on her job, we’ll also see her relationship with Colton grow. I would have them officially living together in their own place by the season 3 finale, possibly even considering marriage.
Season 4 brings more change. Stella likes her work as an EMT but she’s not sure about it as a long-term career. She wants to stay in a medical field and, after doing some research and a little soul-searching, she decides to enroll in a Registered Nurse program. Being an RN will get her a pay bump, a more stable schedule, and still leave her open to be a volunteer Search and Rescue responder. This leads to some drama with Colton because her work and her studies, along with family drama, leave her very little time for him. He’s not getting the support he needs in dealing with running the family ranch, helping Liam with the horse rescue, helping Geri with the Side Step, and dealing with his own family drama after his parents pretty much abandoned him, and his jailbird grandmother decided to butt into his life again. They have a few fights and possibly decide to separate for a while over this issue. By the season 4 finale, they’ve either decided to break things off or have made a stronger commitment to each other and promise they’ll both make time for the other and their issues.
By season 5, Stella has become an RN and gets a job at a local hospital. By the power of TV Magic, she becomes The Nurse that handles every important witness, suspect, or Ranger that the cast needs to visit in the hospital. She’s also the resident expert on drugs of all sorts and helps her father decipher confusing forensic reports. If she and Colton are still together, I think they would either be engaged by the season finale or announcing a pregnancy, possibly both.
Stella Walker is one of the more frustrating members of the Walker family. She’s not my favorite and she’s made a lot of questionable choices that make it hard for me to really like her, but I do think she has her strong points. I just wish the writers would focus more on her development rather than using her as a catalyst for drama. I think the path that the writers currently have her on is riddled with potholes and that she deserves better. That, my friends, is what fanfiction is for.
But what do y’all think? Is this a plausible arc for Stella? Am I giving her too much credit or not enough? What do you think of her current canon plotline? Are there any improvements you would make? Let me know what y’all think in the comments. I can’t wait to see your thoughts!
Catch up on Esther’s detailed Walker Recaps and insightful Character Profiles, all found on Esther’s Writer’s Page!