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The Morning After

Maybe you can help me figure something out about Walker. After watching 11 episodes, I’m still trying to decide if they are writing down to the audience, purposely creating a show that we’re supposed to superficially enjoy and not examine closely; or if they are intentionally making plots that require us to fill in the blanks ourselves. Are they are counting on an engaged, intelligent audience, or targeting a casual viewership that is looking for light entertainment? I’m not being sarcastic. This question is driving me nuts. I can’t figure out this show.

More weeks than not, three things happen in a Walker episode: 1) something takes place that isn’t completely explained. Viewers are confused and presume there was a plot jump but inevitably, some other fan jumps in with a scenario they’ve worked out that could explain what happened. 2) one or more characters do something that is unbelievably dumb, and 3) Cordell Walker gets blamed for it, or something related to it. Let’s take “Freedom” as an example.

Running (Away from or Toward Something)

1.10 390 Stella Trevor

In “Freedom”, Trevor is terrified of his father so the teen convinces Stella that they need to run away.  At first, they’re just going to drive all night to clear their heads, but then we learn that they drove all night in one direction – away from Austin. Soon, the very real problems of running away start to invade their fantasy road trip, so Trevor comes up with a new plan:  

Stella: How'd you find this place?

Trevor: Well, um, we used to come here when I was a kid…

The entire time those kids were at the cabin, my instincts were screaming, “Get out of there! Your dad knows about that place!” When Trevor revealed that his dad’s stash bag of fake IDs and go-money was hidden there, I about jumped out of my chair. “That’s the first place your dad will go! Get out of there!” Other viewers were saying the same thing.

Fan #1: “Why would you go to a place your dad knows about?”

Fan #2: “Because they did not know the dad had escaped prison. They thought he was safely behind bars.”

Fan #3: “But they also know he had people out looking for Trevor… even from behind bars.”

Fan #2: “Good counter-point.”

Of course, viewer omniscience gave us knowledge the characters didn’t yet have – that Clint had escaped from prison - so that heightened the tension.

Micki: Prison bus crashed en route to max.

Walker: Clint West and Jaxon Davis were on that bus. We got to get. Uh, Hoyt, buddy, we got to jet. Got to track down some escapees. Uh, turns out, you're not the only wild man roaming free today.

Do convicts at maximum security prisons usually get community work details at horse farms? IF they do, would a bus full of max security prisoners not have a police escort on the road? That bus seemed like an easy target for a “fast and furious” escape. Are prison officials that careless? These are the kind of details that are missing or don’t make sense.

But even without knowing his dad had escaped, Trevor clearly stated that he was running because he was afraid his dad’s cronies might find him again. After all, they found him once at his aunt’s house and tried to beat him up.

Stella: It's beautiful here, but I don't know, it just, it doesn't feel safe.

Trevor: Okay, well, then let's get back on the road until we do feel safe.

Stella: I feel like we're spinning. We should go back home, to my home. You'll be safe with my family.

Trevor: Still, even behind bars at a maximum security prison, he'll track me down. I can't wait for that to happen.

If Trevor feels his dad’s reach is that extensive, then wouldn’t this independent teen know to avoid familiar places? Trevor was smart about the phone and ATM traces but didn’t think the cabin would be compromised? Okay, if we ignore that inconsistency in his street savvy, then at least grab the money and RUN. Don’t rock on the porch, make out with your girl and take time to plan your future together at your family cabin! You just said you don’t feel safe anywhere, and Stella confided that her fear instincts were kicking in.

Trevor: Run, Stella! Run! Get off me! Run, Stella!

Walker: That's Stella's bag. She was running away with him.

Are teens really that irrational? RUN if you’re going to run. If you're not going to let Stella go to her family for help, then don’t be so obvious as to “go to the next place on the list” (a phrase Cordell used later to describe Clint’s predictable behavior) where you’re an easy target. The rest of the kids’ conversation was equally frustrating:

Trevor: And what makes you think that I'd be safe with your family?

Stella: My dad took your dad down once. He could do it again.

Trevor: If your dad didn't go undercover, my mom might still be alive. That was their last job. We were going to be a family again. At least my dad knows who he is. Your dad is still pretending.

Stella: He's trying to change, to be better. Is yours?

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Week after week, Trevor and Clint (and sometimes Stella) have blamed Cordell for everything bad that happened to them. Pretending about what? The guy infiltrated a dangerous gang to bring down its leaders. They got caught. That’s the way the game is played!

Twyla Jean piled on the guilt:

Twyla: It did a real number on me, realizing I didn't even know who the hell you were. We're strangers. How about a little trade for truths?

Cordell: What do you want to know?

Twyla: Was anything real?... Your undercover ride blew up my Rodeo Kings family.

Cordell: Each job was getting more and more dangerous. It was gonna fall apart eventually.

Twyla: All I wanted was some money to make the grime sparkle. I didn't kill anyone, but when I get out, that won't make a lick of a difference.

At least this time, Stella and Cordell defended his actions - even though Stella later apologized for not considering how her point of view would make Trevor feel, and Cordell promised to try to make amends for hurting Twyla. As testimonials go, theirs wouldn’t go far in justifying Cordell competently doing his job.

As an audience member, I can rationalize the Rodeo Kings’ constant accusations as blame transference, i.e. criminals being unable to take responsibility for their actions. They truly believe that they were doing no harm (“I didn’t kill anyone” and “it was going to be their last job”) and that all their problems are caused by someone else – in this case, the ranger who stopped their armed robbery spree. Cordell tried to explain to Twyla that they were self-destructing, but his defense fell on deaf ears. 

While it’s reasonable to suggest that the convicts can’t see Walker as anything other than the villain who “broke up their family”, I keep waiting for Cordell’s family and friends to respect and acknowledge the risk he took and the good he did, and does, as a ranger, at a deep personal cost to himself. Instead, his undercover work continually gets thrown up to him as a personal (from his kids) and professional (from his colleagues) failure. 

Micki: Remind me to ask how this info got overlooked when your case closed.

Cordell: Yep. Fair. I'll put it in the file.

Micki: Great. Looking forward to it.

EVERY WEEK he gets slammed for running away, losing himself in his role, not being there for his kids when they were hurting, not being able to shake the booze the day he stopped being Duke, not following the rules as a ranger, etc. He’s the lead character of the story, and I know protagonists are supposed to be flawed, but could we also see him as the good guy? He’s obviously seeking redemption but along the way he’s solved cases, been loyal to his partner, and done some remarkably sweet things for his kids. How about if that gets equal dialog with everyone’s perceptions of his failures?

Cordell: So whether it's for themselves or to pay off those bikers, he and Jaxon are gonna need cash.

Micki: Yeah, but this bank, specifically?

Cordell: It was next on the list.

Micki: That's the more reason for them to avoid it. Walker, there's report of a stolen car near the crash site. That could be them.

Cordell: We would open a safety deposit box at banks we were casing. We put one of Crystal's necklaces in this one. That seems valuable enough.

Micki: Wait, who's "we"?

Cordell: The Rodeo Kings. ( clears throat ) When I was undercover.

Micki: Okay. Look, if channeling your Rodeo Kings days serves us in the end, great. Just don't let me catch you slipping into full Duke again, okay?

Was that comment one of concern or rebuke? Maybe give him credit for being a superb ranger whose instincts have repeatedly been right, rather than having Micki (the rookie) and his boss (who blew Emily’s case and was quick to accept scapegoat #2) always act superior to him.

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Yes, he’s a dad who’s trying to do his best, and his best isn’t always good enough. That’s fair. That’s realistic. But maybe have someone pat him on the back for being endlessly patient with his teens, who snooped into his undercover box, blundered into resuming communications with the criminals he was trying to leave behind, kept from him the fact that the boy they were befriending was the gang leader’s son, introduced themselves to the convicted felon that is targeting their family, then ran away with someone who is being hunted down by bikers with guns.  I know teens do dumb things – but every week?? If they’re acting out, or reacting to the loss of their mom, please say that. Don’t make me, as the viewer, have to find an excuse for their reckless, bewildering actions that are becoming so ridiculous I’m finding it hard to accept the realism of the story. 

Title Thread: Freedom

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Hoyt: Ladies and gentlemen, barflies, friends and family, it warms my heart that you're here celebrating my freedom. I'm a new man with big plans, boy.

But then, just when you decide Walker is about goofy moves and bad decisions, it throws you a deep curve. There are parallels in the characters’ journeys that are worthy of thoughtful consideration. For example, Trevor, Stella, Hoyt, Clint and his partner Jaxon all sought freedom in this chapter of their story. It makes one wonder who else is seeking freedom.

Stella: I'm not feeling super great about hidden chimney money. And why would we need guns?

Trevor: Well, we don't. We can leave the guns, but the money will help us get further along.

Stella: To where?

Trevor: However far we can get.

Stella: Wait. I thought we were just laying low, you know? Taking a break.

Trevor: Well, eventually he won't be able to find us. We'll be out of his grasp.

Stella: Trevor, I can't leave my family forever. I mean, August is finally maybe okay. I can't be the reason we all fall apart again.

Trevor: Stella, I know you have a good life back in Austin. And I wish I did too, but the only way my life gets better is if I keep moving forward.

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Two families are trying to “move forward” by running away from their pasts. Stella was angry at her dad for running away, then she did the same. Trevor doesn’t want to be like his dad, yet, just like his dad, he considered his salvation to be stolen money, and thinks he’ll be safe from those who are chasing him by living on the run. Rather than seeing his mom and dad as people who put themselves in danger and neglected to provide a stable home life for their son, Trevor is mimicking his dad by blaming the law for breaking up their family.

As well, everyone is struggling to redefine themselves and their future. Both Cordell and Clint are grieving husbands, desperately trying to forge relationships with their children. All three teens lost their mom, and are now struggling to define new relationships with their dad. Stella wanted a road trip with her mom, but offered to take one with her dad - at the exact moment that Trevor was forced into an unwelcome road trip with his dad. All three teens lost both parents to unusual circumstances outside their control (the Walker children when their dad disappeared for over a year undercover, and Trevor when his dad was put in prison) at the same time that Stella’s best friend was forced to give up her relationship with both her parents for reasons that were outside of her control (their immigration status).

1.10 468 Liam candidate

Liam ran away from his engagement with a lie that was both selfish and selfless. He’s now “running” for office to define a path for himself.

Hoyt: This is why you missed my "get out of prison" party.

Abby: We Ubered, love. And, Hoyt, be nice. This is very important for Liam. And I'm sorry, but I don't remember what this is exactly.

Reporter: Uh, Bryon Santos, for the Travis County Gazette. I'm here covering Liam's run for D.A. Nice to meet you.

Hoyt: Oh, we're thrilled for what Liam could do as D.A. The most selfless man. Everything he's done for his family. You know, as D.A., set your boy up nice in a new free world, I bet.

Was Hoyt being drunk stupid or purposely trying to mess with Liam because they were/ are on opposite sides of the law? In yet another example of the constant question of stupidity vs. cleverness, both answers could be right.

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Hoyt wants to stop running. He thinks engagement will help him give up his criminal past and put down roots. Geri can’t say yes to the engagement proposal because she says she isn’t sure how she feels about Cordell. Abby is so anxious to treat Hoyt as a third son, she gives him her ring to a failed engagement - which she inexplicably keeps in plain sight in the kitchen cupboard drawer (which is even worse than keeping love letters from her affair in the basement). She can’t seem to let go of her past relationship, while Cordell is guilted into retaining ties to his past relationship with his undercover girlfriend – and simultaneously feels guilty for having feelings for his best friend’s girlfriend, who might also be responsible (complicit, covering up) for his wife’s murder (yeah, I’m not letting that go). Gerri says she wants to change, which makes one wonder what she is trying to leave in her past. 

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Hoy's reaction to Geri's confession was refreshingly reasonable:

Hoyt: Just one kiss?
Geri: Yes. Yes. It was just one kiss, but...
Hoyt: Well, life doesn't have to change off just one kiss. We can move past it. I'm in a forgiving mood, baby. I love you.

It was Geri's reaction that confused me. She doesn't know if the kiss meant something to her, so she asked Hoyt to figure it out for her? 

Hoyt: Does it matter more... to you?
Geri: No. No, no, it... I don't know. But you should. Listen to me. You should. A ring like this, a heart like yours... it should matter more. I know you're looking to change. I know it. But I am, too. And I just don't know if that's something that... we can do right together.

What? Abby told Hoyt that he was worthy of love. Does Geri need to hear that too? Why is she afraid to commit to Hoyt? What is she running from? What freedom does she seek?

Relationships and characters in this show are anything but shallow. They’re multi-faceted, real and sympathetic. Parallels abound, and I’m sure there are many more than I’ve listed. Obviously deep thought is going into creating the story… so then why do the characters continue to act so foolishly? We’re told that Stella, Auggie and Trevor are smart, but their actions are infuriatingly naïve. Rangers are supposed to be the cream of the crop, but they invited a suspect/informant to wander away uncuffed and unattended into a warehouse. Family members, partners, supervisors and visiting officials keep telling Walker how wrong he gets things and how much of a screw-up he is (“he’s trying to change to be better”), yet he repeatedly solves cases, saves people and is more patient than most fathers-of-the-year with their children. 

Nothing is as it Seems

These contradictions are driving me nuts. Don’t say one thing but then show the opposite. I accept that smart characters can do stupid things occasionally, but not every single week. You're too good to base the drama on actions that are so ridiculous, they negate the believability of the story.  Is this a procedural crime show, a soap opera or a multi-layered, thought-provoking drama? Somehow Walker is being all these things at the same time. But it’s also tackling cultural messages that are extremely relevant to today’s society – unconscious bias, immigration, border control, racial pressures, gay lifestyles, political old guard vs change advocates (e.g. ranchers vs old oil money), marital struggles and broken families, to name a few.

The acting by every single cast member is flawless. The chemistry in the cast ensemble is superb. The sets and locations are interesting.  All of the characters have depth and a worthwhile story. The pairing of the characters is perfect. I welcome the social messaging layered into the series. There are several parallel plots worthy of consideration – drug running cartels, family-based gang cultures, Emily’s murder (which I don’t think is solved) and family relationships.

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Mostly, I love Cordell Walker as a character. He’s sensitive, caring and tries so hard to do the right thing. He’s funny and real… and looks as good as Trey in a white cowboy hat! Maybe that’s the problem. He’s SOOO good, I want to see him get the professional respect he deserves. Like Micki. Like Trey. Like Captain James.  I want to see him get acknowledged for his progress as a father. He deserves a blessed medal for what he’s put up with since he returned.

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Instead, he's under the scrutiny of a review board. 

I would like events to be realistic or at least explained, and I would like everyone to stop doing dumb things. Please. Am I expecting too much from a new show? Am I the only one who gets excited each week to spend time with these characters, then yells at them for their foibles? This show has SO much potential. If we could just all figure it out.

- Nightsky

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1.10 "Encore" screencaps by Raloria on LJ

Transcript Quotes courtesy of tvshowtranscripts