If you’ve been keeping up with Jared’s new passion project, Walker, by now you’ve seen the first two episodes of the Walker, Texas Ranger reboot. Walker’s premiere episode “Pilot” debuted Thursday, January 21, with the follow up story, “Back in the Saddle” airing last night. What do you think of it so far?
Texas 5-Point-Star Perfection
Overall, I’m loving the new series, but I have to confess that’s largely because I’m elated to have Jared Padalecki front and center on my television screen for a full hour each week. At the risk of seeming to objectify the guy, honestly, he’s jaw dropping handsome in every scene! The haircut draws you into his cowboy persona, topped off by the expected Stetson ranger hat. Then his two belts/ holster, cowboy boots and casual confidence deliver the fatal blow. His hazel eyes are piercing in a way that has me wondering if the network is enhancing photos simply to intensify his blue steel stares. Am I the only one whose heart pounds a little bit faster watching this man?
If you’re still with me and believe I can offer insights into Walker that are deeper than the drop dead first impressions of Jared as a cowboy, I’ll expand my observations to say that Jared has always been a talented actor, but his skills as a leading man truly shine in this title role. Walker is a hardened cop (as evidenced by him surviving a year-long undercover assignment) yet a loving son and father. He wants to do the right thing by his kids and partner, but he keeps messing things up. He’s intensely grieving the death of his wife in spite of everyone around him telling him he must move on. He’s surrounded by loving family and friends, yet he is alone. In short, he’s complex, conflicted, deeply emotional and strongly principled – all of which play to Jared’s strengths as an actor. Every scene is a testament to this being the right role at the right time for this gifted and genuine person. Walker is enjoying record ratings for the CW network, thanks largely to Jared’s loyal fans, but its success also reflects the hard work he’s put into bringing this role to life.
Against the background of Texas ranches and Austin’s downtown landmarks, Jared truly looks at home in his native Texas surroundings. It feels like this is where Jared belongs. Pick-up trucks, horses, saddles, dusty roads and rolled-up shirt sleeves that reveal his J3 tattoo don’t so much transform Jared into Walker as much as convince me that he is and always has been Cordell Walker. The actor, character and world they created seamlessly integrate into an authentic backdrop for the story.
If the biggest surprise of this series is how Jared somehow managed to become even more attractive than we all knew he was before, the second surprise is that Genevieve Padalecki as Emily Walker, Cordell’s murdered wife, significantly adds to the authenticity of Jared’s Walker. Honestly, I was skeptical when Gen was first announced for this part, but the couple’s on-screen chemistry is palpable. They fit with each other in a way that conveys a deeply loving, totally trusting, vulnerable relationship. I’ve completely bought into the Walkers’ devotion to each other before tragedy shattered their family.
Like Jared, Gen also looks organically comfortable in her boots and Texas-casual attire, remembered by all as the modern super mom who cooked homemade dinners by day and tried to save the world by night. I love watching her as the cornerstone of Cordell, Stella and August’s lives.
Equally delightful are the characters of Cordell’s parents, Molly Hagen as his mom, Abby, and Mitch Pileggi as his dad, Bonham. Abby is wise and always has an opinion as to what’s best for her family. Pop Walker is quiet but strong, the gruff ranch owner who crafts leather saddle bags as easily as he breeds and trains horses.
Both Hagen and Pileggi are perfect in their roles, and add immensely to the character strength of the series.
The third power couple of the series is Cordell’s partner, Officer Micki Ramirez (Lindsey Morgan) and her boyfriend, Trey Barnett (Jeff Pierre). They both know exactly how to stand up to Walker! Micki is sympathetic but only allows Cordell a very short lead rope, while Trey is disarmingly snarky! I’ve been totally charmed by Trey’s wit, but honestly, I’m not completely at ease with Lindsey’s Ramirez yet.
She seems to be holding back, like she’s still unsure of herself. Whether that is meant to reflect Ramirez’ insecurity as a rookie ranger or Lindsey’s newness to the role is unclear. The jury is still out on that one. What do you think?
As a couple, Micki and Trey’s relationship conveniently mirrors what is going on in Cordell’s life. (Spoiler alert if you haven’t yet seen the first two episodes.) Trey’s decision in episode 2 to stay with Micki rather than re-enlist to pursue his military career paralleled Cordell’s decision in the “Pilot” to turn down a coveted task force role that would have again taken him away from his children. Micki and Trey also admitted to genuinely desiring but not knowing how to create a life together, just as Cordell and his children are struggling to reconnect after separation and grief made them more strangers than family. It will be interesting to watch how these stories unfold.
Rounding out the Walker’s nuclear family are Cordell’s two children, Stella (Violet Brinson) and August (Kale Culley). If the intent is that we like the agreeable August and dislike the rebellious Stella, their introductions are going exactly as planned. Both teens would benefit from becoming a little less one dimensional, so I’m a bit hesitant about them so far. I truly believe just two episodes is too little to judge both young actors and young characters, though.
What Still Needs a Bit of Polish
As much as I love the characters described above, and am intrigued by the mysteries that have been teased, there are a number of things about Walker that aren’t quite working yet.
Walker’s brother, Liam, for example. I can’t figure him out. He stepped up and watched Cordell’s children when the ranger went on a long-term undercover assignment, but Cordell’s younger brother has done nothing but chastise and complain about Walker since he returned. Where’s the loving brother’s support for Cordell’s grief and confusion? Why isn’t Liam helping Cordell understand his children and ease back into their lives without all the judgment and sarcastic remarks? In the latest episode, we learned that Liam petitioned to assume custody of Walker’s kids after only 3 months of Walker “going dark.” That’s not a guy I’d trust with my kids in the future! So far, the character and his relationship with Walker are unwelcome, forced drama, but I’m hoping this will be explained or developed further, given more time.
The balance of character to crime solving also seems to be searching for the right mix. Jared has repeatedly stated that Walker is about a father who happens to be a ranger, versus a ranger who happens to be a father. That clearly signals that they want the story to emphasize the family’s search for reconciliation instead of being a procedural crime drama. A refreshing idea, and I’d say they’ve been true to that objective thus far, but the crimes they’ve solved in Walker’s first two weeks back on the force have been downplayed to the point of being an afterthought. In the first episode, I didn’t even realize the injured officer signaled the beginning of a case to be solved, so when Cordell and Micki started to interview suspects, I was thrown out of the story, forced to figure out what they were talking about. The second episode’s crime was insultingly transparent (once they said the horse was injured). The only way Walker will earn the “legendary” status we’re told he holds among the rangers is if the crimes get complex and interesting enough to engage his, and our, intelligence.
Equally confusing is the mystery surrounding Emily’s death. She was trudging through the prairie in the middle of the night to, what? Save immigrants illegally crossing the border? She was bringing food and water to whom, exactly? That part is unclear since Austin is not exactly a border town (it's 215 miles from Mexico). Maybe Texans intuitively understand what is happening but it has to be spelled out for me.
Plus the bartender, Geri, who seems to be a friend of the family (but I’m unsure about that relationship since Cordell seems to seek out her company), was with Emily on her mission of mercy? Was that detail mentioned in the “Pilot”? If so, I didn’t hear it (see below for more on that).
The second episode seemed to answer all the questions that plague Cordell about his wife’s murder. With poker chip and closed eyes mysteries solved, is her murder as simple as everyone keeps telling Walker he should accept it to be? I was totally convinced his former partner, now boss Captain James (“Jimmy”) was a bad guy, in on a conspiracy to murder Mrs. Walker, but now I’m not sure there’s a murder left to solve. Emily’s death is a pivotal premise of the story, so I’m assuming there will be more to it than we’ve seen, but there aren’t any breadcrumbs left for us to follow. The trail went cold, so to speak, so there’s nothing open in the “legendary ranger instincts” storyline to push me to tune in next week.
Lastly, as a purely post-production observation, the dialog in the show is brutally hard to hear. No matter how high the volume is on the TV, either the background music drowns out the words, or they are muffled as if they are irrelevant distractions to the visual components of the show. Several people have mentioned this to me, but I noticed it right away as well. Again, a balance issue that hopefully gets worked out with time.
The Last Round Up
Walker’s strengths are clearly its lead characters, both in terms of actors playing the roles and the depth introduced into their individual stories. Jared, Genevieve, Mitch and Molly are truly impressive as the Walker adults, and there’s promise in the other characters who are a part of Cordell’s emotional journey. Leaning into this aspect of the series has tipped the scales heavily in that direction, so “job well done” as far as introducing every person of significance in Walker’s life.
Just as Cordell is struggling to find his balance between family and career, future episodes will hopefully experiment with finding a balance between character exploration and his exploits as a ranger, as his experiences as a Texas lawman are a big part of who he is as a father. Jared can carry a series that is intellectually challenging as well as emotionally satisfying, so I hope the series develops in both of those directions equally.
Bottom line: I can't yet give Walker an unequivocal A+, but I’m excited every Thursday night to watch it. I hope the plot and its characters deepen and expand for the show’s long term prospects, but for now, I’m intrigued. Besides, Jared is "Back in the Saddle", so that's reason enough for me to tune in.
Please share your thoughts on Walker below. Did your opinion change from the "Pilot" to the second episode? What would you like to see developed further, or conversely dropped, in the story?
Find more of Nightsky's reviews and articles on Jared and Supernatural on her Writer's Page.