Dan Miller had quite the character journey in season 2 of Walker. From being Gale’s sidekick, to Denise’s scapegoat, to finally ending up as an unlikely ally to the Walker family, Dan's both frustrated us and given us some heartwarming moments. Though sometimes his character flipflops in ways that give me whiplash, I want to spend a little time discussing an aspect of his character that has remained consistent throughout the season: his commitment to his son, Colton.
From the early episodes of this season, Dan’s affection for his son is near palpable. Even during his marriage troubles and his own feud with the Walkers, Dan always makes time for Colton and does his best to be supportive. Almost everything he does over the course of season 2 is done either directly for Colton or at the very least so he could stay near him. This is played in sharp contrast to Denise, who rarely seems to have the time of day for her son and isn’t afraid to sacrifice him and his feelings for her personal drama.
The first real interaction between Dan and Colton in “Sucker Punch” is one that stands out to me as an example of Dan’s care for Colton. He presents his son with two tickets to a music festival that will be coming to Austin soon. Colton is excited and thanks him for them. Of course, since there are two tickets, there’s still the question of who Colton will be taking with him. Dan offers to go himself but Colton is hesitant and says he was planning to ask someone else. Dan asks who and then guesses Stella Walker. When Colton confirms this, his dad doesn’t berate him or speak badly about the Walker family as one would expect. Instead, he encourages Colton to ask Stella to the festival and wishes him luck scoring the girl. This mostly stood out to me because in previous episodes Dan showed a lot of animosity toward the Walker family, almost acting as Gale’s lackey. Unlike his wife and mother-in-law, though, he was able to put his feelings aside to support his son.
Given the limitations of the screen time of the show, we don’t get many one-on-one moments with these two, but there are many other examples of Dan striving to do the right thing by his son above and beyond himself. Allow me to elaborate.
As early as “It’s Not What You Think”, we’re told that Dan and Denise are having marriage troubles when she apologizes to him for missing their counseling appointment. This thread continues throughout the series, eventually leading to Denise kicking him out of the house in “Boundaries” and sending him divorce papers sometime before “A Matter Of Miles”. All through this plotline, we constantly see Dan apologizing and trying to make peace with Denise. While he does plenty of things that would require an apology (such as lying to Denise about his involvement with the men operating the illegal cameras in the Walker home), we also see Denise bring out the “You bought the wrong kind of cleaner” fight, something she later attributes to Gale and Marv’s struggling marriage. While neither spouse is perfect, this is a point where it seems Denise is largely the aggressor while Dan comes across more as a peacemaker who constantly strives to prove that he is on Denise's "side" and always has her back.
This idea is reinforced in other episodes. In "Barn Burner", we see video footage of him sneaking around the Walker property, which sets him up as the buyer for the surveillance operation later on. In the next episode, "It's Not What You Think", we learn that he has done this to find dirt on the Walker family. While this could be an extreme way of supporting Gale's ire, I think his motivations could also lie in trying to impress Denise to help her avenge her father's death. Later in the episode, he lies about his reasons for being on the Walker property when he shot the criminal running the operation, which went a long way in endearing Denise to him as he became the hero of the day. In “Bygones”, Dan admits that he’s been trying to take on big projects around the property because he wants to impress Denise. In “Common Ground”, Dan offers himself as the racer because he knows he has the best shot at winning against the Walkers, which would undoubtedly score him points with Denise. In “Search and Rescue”, Dan initially rushes to Denise’s defense and fights back against Liam’s rash accusations, despite the fact that she’s already kicked him out and all but officially ended their marriage. An honorable mention goes to "Sucker Punch", in which Dan did everything in his power to ensure that Denise got the incriminating footage of Seranos that he saved from the surveillance op while remaining anonymous. While on the surface these things appear to be just attempts to win Denise’s favor as her husband, I think there’s another motivation underneath that: staying near Colton.
Remember earlier I mentioned that Dan acted as Gale’s lackey and fellow Walker-hater? Let’s circle back to that.
In “Douglas Fir”, Gale mentions Dan and Denise’s marriage problems to Cordell. Aside from her painting the possibility of divorce as “giving up”, Gale gives an interesting perspective on things. Rather than taking her daughter’s side, she seems to favor Dan. This is only further proven by the fact that she follows her son-in-law to Thalia to help him gather Christmas decorations rather than stay at home with her daughter. It’s likely that Dan gained this favor by being equally gung-ho against the Walkers while Denise was still in her “Let’s be Neighborly” stage. Why would Dan put so much effort into being Gale’s sidekick, especially when Denise was still against her mother’s actions?
Because he knew Gale would return the favor later.
In “Boundaries”, Gale overhears Denise kicking Dan out of the house. As soon as Denise leaves that conversation, Gale jumps to his defense. Based on how Denise reacts to this, I’d wager it’s not the first time Gale has argued on Dan’s behalf.
In “Common Ground”, we see Dan’s bootlicking endgame come to fruition. Though Gale failed to convince Denise to forgive Dan this time, Gale's still willing to work with him. She makes a deal with Dan behind her daughter’s back: if he wins the race for them, he gets to stay in the farmhouse on the Davidson property. Dan wanted to do this because it was a way he could stay next door to Colton when he was forbidden from living in the same house.
Based on all this, it seems pretty clear that Dan spent so much time sucking up to Gale so that when his apologies and peacemaking attempts failed, she would be the one to back him up when Denise wanted to end things. If she could convince Denise not to divorce him, he could stay with Colton. Everything Dan did this season: every jab made at the Walkers, every scheme hatched in secret, every breakfast smoothie made and apology dished out, all of it was done so that he could stay near Colton, his son.
Why go through all that effort? Why not accept the marriage was failing and make his case in child custody court?
Because Denise is a damn good lawyer and a vindictive b***h on top of that.
Dan knew very well that if he ever agreed to a divorce, Denise would be more than happy to screw him over. We already saw with Denise’s actions in “Common Ground” with August and Bonham that she’s perfectly willing and capable to bend the legal system to her will, however outlandish it may be. Who’s to say she wouldn’t bend the truth, or even outright lie, to gain full custody of Colton and deny Dan visitation rights? We saw during the disastrous dinner in “A Matter Of Miles” that Denise isn’t afraid of dangling divorce right in front of his face, even in front of their son. There’s a reason Dan was “dodging divorce papers” and it isn’t because he loves his wife.
It’s because he loves his son.
What do y’all think? Did I hit the nail on the head with this one or am I reading too much into it? Why do you think Dan tried so hard to stay married to Denise all this time? I’m curious to see your comments!
Gain more insights on Walker's Characters and enjoy Esther's detailed episode Recaps/ Reviews, all found on her Writer's Page!