This episode was supposed to be the season finale before the network asked for five more episodes. The decision was made not to change the episode, which makes me wonder what the actual finale will be.
I lead with that because this episode had a lot of the earmarks of a finale designed to leave viewers breathlessly awaiting the next season. It’ll be interesting to see how the show channels that energy so the next five episodes aren’t anticlimactic.
As always, Jared and the cast did an amazing job with the acting. I do think that the casting for the show is spot on, and everyone brings their A-game. We’ve also seen recent praise for how engaged Jared is as executive producer, and the healthy atmosphere fostered on the set. That’s all great stuff.
Once again I’m going to talk about my favorite parts of the episode first, then discuss the pieces that were problematic for me toward the end. So this won’t be in chronological order, or be a retelling of the story.
The Walkers have a lot of horses.
I loved Clint’s comment to Cordell wondering whether Bonham was ‘pissed you didn’t take up the family business.’ Nice Supernatural touch!
Clint also guesses Bonham’s cancer diagnosis and outs him to Abbie. (We still don’t know why Bonham is keeping it a secret and refusing treatment, especially when they caught the situation early.) His comment about Cordell being broken when he came to the Rodeo Kings ‘family’ and that the gang ‘saved’ him was an interesting perspective.
Stella and Auggie try to help Liam, who is bleeding badly. She begs Trevor to let her call Trey, since as an army medic he would know what to do. Trey keeps everyone calm, triages by video call, and walks them through cleaning, sterilizing and cauterizing the wound. (But did they remove the bullet?) I’m usually not a fan of Stella’s, but she held it together and saved Liam’s life and really came through in this episode.
Hoyt intentionally draws Clint’s ire, just by being his smartass self—although I think that he meant to divert attention so Clint wouldn’t hurt anyone else, and because he and Stella were getting out of their ropes.
When Clint forces Cordell and Hoyt to hold up a bank, Hoyt says he believes he is there for a reason, affirms his friendship, and says they can work everything else (the Geri situation) out later.
Hoyt got to use his outlaw skills to help save the day, and deciding to take Cordell ‘hostage’ during the robbery was brilliant and self-sacrificing. Despite his flaws, Hoyt died a hero and was one of the good guys in the end.
The fight scene/shoot out was great, and Cordell kicked ass.
Trevor made a hard choice.
Liam was the big damn hero, sporting a brand of a ‘W’ on his chest suspiciously reminiscent of an anti-possession tattoo.
Everyone is hugging as the cops finally show up. Liam didn’t die, and Trevor didn’t go dark side.
If you liked the episode, stop here. While there were parts I enjoyed, a lot of the plot just didn’t make sense, and I’ll be tackling that next.
Let’s go back to the start of the episode. Liam has been shot. So Hoyt and Abbie come running out to be hostages, too? Why didn’t one of them go out the back to the stables, take a horse and ride for help? Or use the phone in the house to call 911? Or grab one of the many guns we saw in previous episodes and pick the bad guys off like a sniper? Or lure the gang members off one by one and shoot/incapacitate them?
How long can you survive bleeding out? Liam had a bullet in his chest and lay in a pool of blood for over half the episode, but Hoyt died from a knife to the gut in minutes? I guess it all depends on what innards get damaged, but that struck me wrong. I couldn’t help thinking that Sam Effing Winchester got gut shot and then was nearly suffocated to death by a werewolf, eluded other werewolves, hiked out of the woods, drove to town, and staggered into the hospital to save the day and shoot the other werewolf ("Red Meat"). Which made me impatient with Liam—“Come on, get up! It’s just a scratch!”
(Okay, "Red Meat" wasn’t exactly plausible for anyone other than the Winchesters, but it was deeply satisfying as an episode and real people have managed amazing things in life-or-death situations).
Bonham realizes there is trouble, gets a gun, and sneaks into the compound. Then he sets the rifle out of reach when he goes to help Liam, and we don’t see him pick it back up when he carries Liam to safety. He calls Micki and doesn’t get to the point in the precious seconds before he’s caught, when he could have said something like ‘Clint’s here, hostage situation, send help.’
Do Micki and Bonham chat so often that his call doesn’t raise a red flag to either her or to Captain James? And while Clint later warns Cordell not to try speaking in code, wouldn’t it be likely that law enforcement partners might have a codeword that wouldn’t arouse suspicion? (Maybe not ‘funky town’ but something?)
If Stella and Auggie attempts to save Liam’s life happened at the same time as the bank robbery, wouldn’t Trey have called Micki to alert her as soon as Clint broke Trevor’s phone and ended the call?
Also, Trevor managed to go to the barn, find the branding iron and heat it up really fast without being noticed.
Why was Micki so quick to believe the worst of Cordell on the bridge and not suspect coercion, since they knew Clint was still on the loose? Did she really think Cordell would knock off a bank on his own?
Then there’s the aftermath of the kiss. Cordell is in his late thirties, widowed for over a year (and he’s already had a sexual relationship with Twila Jean as Duke). Geri is close to his age, they grew up together and have been friends for decades, and she’s single. Aside from lingering doubts about the extent of Geri’s involvement in Emily’s death (which should be a serious c-block right there), they kissed.
We know they didn’t sleep together, and we also know that she didn’t return his calls/texts for three months. Everything she’s been through plus realizing that she has options other than Hoyt makes her decide to turn down a marriage proposal from a career outlaw and ex-con. Why are the characters obsessing about this like a bunch of teenage virgins? Hoyt was at the ranch to ‘confront’ Cordell for kissing Geri? It was consensual, and she’s an adult who can do what she pleases—she and Hoyt had history but weren’t together at the time. She’s not Hoyt’s possession. None of this—including Cordell’s guilt over it—made sense.
Speaking of guilt, do the writers have no concept of what it means for a cop to go undercover? Cops get leeway to commit some crimes when they’re undercover to win the trust of the group they’re infiltrating. They aren’t social workers sent to point out poor life choices. Their job is to lie, deceive, infiltrate and betray to stop bad guys from committing more/worse crimes.
Have there been cases where cops started to lose themselves in the role? Yes. But that isn’t what seems to be criticized throughout this season. What Walker gets blamed for from his family, his partner, his boss, the bad guys and himself is that he did his job. He didn’t shoot Crystal. This wasn’t a dirty bust with entrapment or planted/lost evidence, or witness intimidation—or even use of unnecessary force. This was an undercover bust paying off to take out a criminal gang that had already caused several deaths.
If the issue is the questionable ethics of ‘authorized criminality’—allowing undercover cops to break the law without penalty in order to catch bigger bad guys—then that’s a systemic issue, and not Cordell’s personal failure and should be treated as such. (Good write up in the Stanford Law Journal—Sammy’s almost-alma mater )
Cordell gets blamed for staying away on his assignment—but that wouldn’t have been up to him. His bosses could have recalled him at any point. They kept him there because he was valuable as an asset. He didn’t *really* join the gang and the folks at headquarters would have known that. Cordell didn’t ask to be extracted, but now that we know how his family treated him because he didn’t ‘get over’ Emily fast enough or grieve the ‘right’ way, it’s not surprising that he’d lose himself in his work one way or another.
In the final fight with Clint, Cordell finally (!) argues that it was his job to betray the Rodeo Kings. Why is Clint so surprised now that he knows Cordell is a Texas Ranger, and why does Cordell feel so much guilt? Why did Cordell almost taunt Trevor into shooting him? While it was nice to see him beat the crap out of Clint, once again it’s not Cordell who gets to be the hero—Liam and Micki save the day. Why don’t the writers write Cordell as the hero of his own show at least some of the time?
The Texas Rangers don’t handle small crimes. Here’s how the real Texas Rangers’ website defines their mandate: “The Texas Rangers conduct major violent crime, public corruption, cold case and officer involved shooting investigations and oversee the department's border security and tactical and crisis negotiation programs.” Big stuff. Which means the Rodeo Kings fell into that category, so they had become a major threat.
Also, 79% - 86% of bank robbers are caught, usually fairly quickly. The average take is fifteen hundred dollars—one teller’s drawer. While robbing banks has been romanticized, in reality there are more lucrative types of heists with a much lower chance of being busted. Just saying. Bank robbery is more of a sucker’s bet than the road to riches.
The episode’s ending makes no sense. Cordell missed his DPS hearing because he and his family were being held at gunpoint by criminals (who were apprehended and the stolen money reclaimed). Surely that warrants rescheduling his hearing?
Why is Cordell so full of angst over doing his job? Again—this wasn’t a dirty bust. He did not discover corruption within the Rangers. Nothing suggests that there were legal or procedural improprieties in how it was handled. But Cordell says his ‘past’ is catching up to him? Duke isn’t really *his* past. Why does he think he deserves harsher punishment than a two-week suspension? Does he think the world would be better off if the Kings were still on a crime spree? Cordell says he has to do ‘better’—what is he expecting of himself? Of all of Sam Winchester’s traits to be carried into Walker, self-loathing isn’t the one I’d have picked, and doesn’t seem justified.
Cordell has not only accepted that he needs to follow the rules and not use his fists to solve most problems (fighting Clint was clearly self-defense), but he’s proven by his actions that he’s capable of changing, and he was willing to accept the DPS’s judgment. We didn’t see him do anything illegal or inappropriate in handling the Rodeo Kings. The corruption uncovered by Captain James and Liam around Emily’s death (remember that?) led to the arrest of the former captain who did obstruct justice and falsify evidence. But Cordell wasn’t a part of it.
There are plenty of real problems and issues to be discussed around policing, including: excessive use of force; lack of accountability; over-militarization; systemic racism, sexism and homophobia; inappropriate training; corruption, and more. We can and should have a discussion about where public funds are best spent and whether it would be better to shift some funding to mental health professionals to deal with certain kinds of problems, etc. Walker has an opportunity to add to that national conversation about policing and tackle tough aspects of the problem, much the way M*A*S*H forced a difficult public discussion during the Vietnam War, and All in the Family explored the rapid societal changes of the 1970s.
But at the end of the day, someone still needs to stop actual criminals in order for society to function. When law enforcement acts within the law and without prejudice to do their duty, there’s no reason for officers to feel shame over protecting public safety.
As I noted last time, I’m afraid that the ambivalence the writers feel toward law enforcement as a whole is making it impossible for them to empathize with Cordell and let him be a hero. That, along with inexperienced writers, too many plot threads left hanging for too long without resolution (the multiple mini-hiatuses don’t help), inconsistent characterization and sloppy plotting make it hard to stay engaged with the show.
Full disclosure—I write fiction books for a living, so plot, characterization, and maintaining suspension of disbelief is part of my daily work. Even in fantasy, I have to constantly ask—1) Is this plausible; 2) Is this consistent with previous canon/characterization; and 3) Do the choices made/actions taken make sense given the characters and their options? Just like doctors and lawyers have difficulty watching shows that are wildly inaccurate regarding legal and medical details, I can’t turn off my ‘writer brain’ completely when I watch for fun. I know the kind of inconsistencies, holes and cheats that would (rightly) rack up angry reviews if I did them in a book.
That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a show. There are a lot of shows and movies I’ve enjoyed, including Supernatural (which did, admittedly, have some weaker episodes and story arcs as well but which was overall written with care and skill). I just can’t stand sloppy writing and ‘forced errors’ where characters are manipulated by the script into doing something that is out of character or doesn’t make sense. Unfortunately, this episode and the series as a whole have had a lot of these problems.
Apparently that doesn’t bother some viewers. Great for them. But from the comments and reviews I’ve read, those problems do bother another swath of viewers, enough to make them consider giving up watching because of consistently weak writing.
I want to watch because I love the show and the characters, not just because I love Jared. I want to be completely captivated by the plot. And I want to write whole-heartedly positive reviews. But that’s been the exception, not the rule. I want the show to knock it out of the park more often than not. We’re thirteen episodes in, long enough to find the show’s stride. This episode had some good moments and great acting, but it didn’t live up to its potential—much like Walker as a whole to date.
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Wonderful Screencaps by Raloria on LJ; Article Illustrated by Gail and Nightsky.