The Morning After
I know I should have loved Walker’s climactic episode “Dig”. The second half of the episode was non-stop action! The story's climax revealed an answer we’ve been theorizing about and waiting for all season. There was a spectacular car crash that gave Supernatural fans PTSD flashbacks of the Impala getting T-Boned in its season 1 tortuous cliffhanger. August made a responsible choice that was true to who he is as a person. Cordell went all Sam Winchester on the bad guys, freeing himself and taking the villain hostage. Plus, all this great drama was wonderfully woven together by Richard Speight, Jr. in his first directorial partnership with our Texas Ranger.
So I should have loved it… but the first half hour so infuriated me by alternating between ridiculous scenarios, boring dialogs and Cordell shaming that I struggled to reenter the story, even when everything finally started coming together toward a very satisfying conclusion. The story flowed seamlessly between the two halves of the show, but the nonchalant pace plus characters’ reminiscing and judgmental attitudes in the first half were so entirely different from the exciting, vindicating second half, it was as if it was written by two different writers (which it was).
Let’s look at this chronologically, as it happened in the episode, so the frustration gets vented and let go. Then we’ll be free to review the important revelations and plot threads!
Earlier in the season (1.11 “Freedom”), I noted that including nonsensical scenarios is one of three on-going crutches that are holding the show back from being the outstanding drama this cast is capable of delivering. This week again, Walker filled the precious few minutes they have to tell us their story with inane situations that just aren’t plausible. I will dedicate just one paragraph to list them, because I’m so frustrated that they believe the audience is too numb or dumb to care, yet the Walker team has proven repeatedly that their good writers can do so much better than this.
Rant Begins: There was a bomb threat at a high school that was serious enough to evacuate the school. The students were allowed to just wander around the school campus, with no accountability or roll call by the teachers. Then Cordell offered to take the whole school (“All right, Sacred Heart, food and drinks on the house”) to his restaurant/bar to distract the students because they had rough year.
Weren’t their parents called or texted to come get their teens? Wouldn’t they have been released in some organized, controlled fashion? It was a bomb threat, not a fun fair! Anyway, Cordell ended up with only a handful of kids so I presume he just corralled Stella and Augie’s close acquaintances but that wasn’t clear.
When he arrived at the bar, he was surprised that Geri was there, so what was his plan to supervise all these teens he took on a field trip? All this was going on when he was supposedly in the middle of a bomb threat investigation. They didn’t need him on site helping the Austin police? Well, maybe the bomb threat wasn’t a big deal, because he and Geri had time to reminisce about the first time they went to that bar, their good ol’ times with Hoyt, and some old girlfriend whose relevance to his story seemed noticeably forced.
When he finally returned to the active investigation site, he and Micki casually strolled through the school, discussed her birth control practices (really?!) and put him on trial for his "excessive" use of force (a single shove as far as we’ve seen). The two candidates whose debate was cancelled were also so incredibly casual about a bomb threat at a school that once their debate was cancelled, rather than frantically trying to fit in as many stump speeches and hand-shaking stops as possible on the last day of their campaigns, OR helping out the school, they threw together an impromptu BBQ dinner with everyone at the Walker ranch (Bonham and Bret don’t seem to need to work their day jobs). How is it that the Walker family happens to be best friends with so many criminals?
Nothing is as it Seems
End of Rant. None of the characters' actions made sense given the circumstances. It was all so ridiculous, you just had to hand wave everything listed above. After all, the characters were all laughing and having fun despite the seemingly deadly nature of the threat! The first half of the show should have been gravely serious (bomb threat and all), but it was filled with laughter, reunions, yearbooks and reminiscing.
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em?
Cue the second half of the show. All the illusory threats were resolved - the bomb threat was cleared as “harmless”, the BBQ “manifesto” mock debate sniping was over, and the kids’ “could have/ should have been” relationships were sorted out. Viewers were told that the characters just had to tie up a few loose ends (Stan’s last interview, Cordell closing out old business), so all indications were that the second half would be lighthearted. Instead, that's when the real action began! Everyone’s truths replaced the "secrets and lies" we had been seeing and things got interesting!
We called it! Stan was the mastermind criminal behind the cover up of Emily’s murder! It’s such a relief to know that the underlying story of the entire season didn’t stop with some random drug runner who appeared out of nowhere and got killed before anyone could learn the whole story! Finally, the ultimate “bad apple” has been discovered! Except… I’ve never really understood who Stan was or his relationship to either the Walker family or the Rangers! Who the blazes is Stan?? He's not a ranger, but he seems to be in charge somehow. (Another trip wire of this show that I called out earlier this season is that viewers need to help each other understand the details of the story).
The first line of the episode signaled that Stan's status would be important:
Stan: Of course you know you're not really a Ranger until a DPS chair makes it so.
It seems Stan is a (the?) chairperson in the Texas Department of Public Safety (“DPS”). According to some quick research via Wikipedia, DPS:
“is a department of the state government of Texas. The DPS is responsible for statewide law enforcement and vehicle regulation. […]Arguably the most well-known division of the DPS is the Texas Rangers. The Rangers are responsible for state-level criminal investigations, among other duties.”
It goes on to say that in 2019, The Texas Rangers consisted of only 166 sworn Rangers. That’s a smaller, more elite force than I previously realized. It also means that Stan is somehow responsible for the management of the Rangers, i.e. he is one of, or maybe even their singular, boss. I had pieced that relationship together a bit because he was always hanging around the Ranger offices. Several people in this episode foreshadowed that his role with the Rangers would be pivotal to the story:
Captain James: one of us is gonna have to see who our new boss is gonna be.
Stan: I'm hoping, for both our sakes, that you won't have to take orders from your kid brother.
Micki: Liam would have wiped the floor with our DPS overlord.
Cordell: Do you mind telling our future bosses that the security threat is...
Micki: No longer a threat? Sure.
Digging a bit further, I learned another DPS division is the Criminal Investigations Division (CID), which:
“consists of 700 members […] specialized by function […including] terrorism, gang-related organized crime, illegal drug trafficking, motor vehicle theft, gambling, public corruption, fraud, theft, and counterfeit documents.”
It appears Stan was not only an important man in a position of power, privy to the progress of Ranger investigations, but he was also privy to gang and drug undercover operations. He could easily hinder Captain James “digging” into the North Side Nation, or mislead inquiries into the dealings of bad cops such as Campbell (last week). Ironically, the public official in the organization that investigates public corruption was corrupt. Stan had all his bases covered!
The investigative reporter did his homework and dug up all this dirt on Stan:
Reporter: I gotta be honest, I started out doing a follow-up piece on the Walkers; Liam and Cordell.
Stan: Oh, here we go. Trash talking one of our best Rangers.
Reporter: No. As far as I can tell he's turned it around. Including the arrests of multiple North Side Nation members, and helping in the Detective Campbell case. But, of course, you know about that.
Stan: Yeah, Byron, I'm on the DPS. What are you getting at?
Reporter: You were a little evasive about the connection between D.A. McLawson's retirement and Detective Campbell's arrest earlier. I was at the county clerk's office this morning. Found out there are a number of other cases McLawson dismissed that also had ties to North Side Nation. Like you said, you're the DPS chair. You signed off on all the cases that were dismissed.
The reporter was suspicious of Stan but wasn’t finished digging up all the “bad apples.” For example, how did McLawson get to be on the take? The DPS (i.e. Stan) is state government. McLawson was the District Attorney for Travis County (which covers Austin) – i.e. county government. Both agencies are located in Austin, but aren’t organizationally connected (as far as this outsider can tell). Did Stan pressure McLawson somehow, or are they both just bad apples on a much larger rotten tree of corruption? Is it possible we’re not done with this storyline?
Secrets and Lies
Stan’s part in Emily’s death probably came afterward, when he put Mendoza up to ending the investigation that may have revealed the gang’s drug runs - and Stan's involvement with the gang. Hopefully, the season’s finale reveals more secrets about the events of Emily’s murder, but Cali’s account from that night could still be true. Emily was in the wrong place at the wrong time and her death was the unfortunate result of a trigger happy, surprised nobody wanting to hide illegal border operations.
Cordell: But when you confessed, there was something in your eyes. Something that was behind 'em. I remember feeling like there was something you weren't saying. I'm in a place now where I can admit to you that we should have asked more questions.
Mendoza: You're just a man who lost his wife. The people who did that to you, who did this to me, they are the ones that should pay.
Cordell: She's dead.
Cordell: Cali. The woman who put you up to this. The woman who... killed my wife. She's dead now………. You said "they."
Mendoza: Cali came to see me the last time I was in the hospital. There was a man there with her. Seemed like he was in charge. He put up the money…. He's running for district attorney. Stan Morrison.
After the wrong person was convicted of Emily’s murder the first go-round, shouldn’t the Rangers and the DA’s office have been a lot more thorough when the case re-opened? Liam told the reporter (on the school steps) that Mendoza didn’t cooperate with their investigation when he initially confessed, but wouldn’t they have really pushed him after his exoneration to find out why he did jail time for no reason? Why would they be satisfied they got it right the second time when their only evidence was the off-handed confession of a surprise witness/criminal who they couldn’t press for details because she was killed by Geri (who just happened to appear out of nowhere to take a lethal shot)? Since nothing has been as it seems, how can they (and we) be sure that even Mendoza's truth is the whole story? How much more does Stan know about the extent of the corruption? Note the word "seemed" in Mendoza's confession! More foreshadowing that Stan isn't the end of it?
Like Mendoza, I don’t blame Walker AT ALL for not leading a thorough investigation. He was grieving. He wasn’t thinking straight, and he was a victim of the crime. What about Liam, though? Did McLawson order him to stop questioning and close the case? Did Stan order Captain James to move onto other cases? Everyone was under the thumb of a corrupt boss, but no one pushed. No one had Walker’s back, even when they were given a second chance to get things right.
“Dig” presented an odd dichotomy of opinions on Cordell Walker as a ranger. Oddly, all the bad guys in the story defended him. In true sympathy for Cordell’s loss, Mendoza forgave Walker for being a part of the posse who convicted and jailed an innocent man. Carlos rightly blamed the puppeteers, not the guy who was victimized twice – first by losing his wife, then by being duped into believing justice has been served.
Stan: Come on, I need my top Ranger out there, not this new breed all in touch with their feelings and that.
Cordell: Yeah, well, you know, Stan, maybe it's time we embrace some change.
Stan: Don't doubt yourself too much. You were born to do this. Just do me one thing, though: color inside the lines.
Stan is the other disreputable liar who praised Walker’s abilities as a ranger. Whether Cordell is actually one of the force’s top rangers is one of the biggest unanswered questions of the series! Is he truly that good, as Stan and Capt. James have mentioned, and as Micki has sarcastically mocked, or is Stan offering empty praise, encouraging dangerous behavior hoping Cordell gets booted off the force? Do you remember if Stan was at all involved in offering Cordell the undercover operation after Emily was murdered? If he was, it would suggest that Cordell really is a top notch investigator, and Stan needed to throw the lead bloodhound off the scent.
WHY then don’t any of the good guys see Cordell that way? It’s so very frustrating.
Cordell: Ranger Ramirez. Would you care to comment on your partner's actions?
Micki: I think they were excessive.
Cordell: Do you think he's fit to wear the badge?
Micki: I believe everyone should be held accountable for their actions, no matter what their reputation might be... or what they've been through.
Cordell: You think I should have quit?
Micki: No. Walker... you are a good Ranger. But I know you can do better. And not just then. Today. Tomorrow. For as long as you wear that badge.
Good? That’s hardly a resounding endorsement! Micki was literally looking down on a sinner while she preached from a pulpit (the stage podium), telling Cordell to repent and turn back his evil ways! Jared did an amazing job of conveying Cordell’s shame, embarrassment, and self-doubt during the scene. Lindsey also played it like Micki was finally encouraging her partner, but regardless of her sympathetic tone, she still passed judgement on her partner and condemned his past.
Everyone needs their family and friends to “have their back” when they’re hit by tragedy. You don’t know which way is forward and you certainly don’t have the best judgment. During a time when Cordell wasn’t receiving any support for his profound grief (“no matter what they’ve been through”), his bosses purposely put him undercover, separating him from his family and compounding his mental and emotional confusion. Cordell was a pawn who was manipulated by corrupt law enforcement and judicial officials (Stan and McLawson), yet none of that is seen as an “excuse” for his behavior. He is now humbly accepting everyone’s criticism for his rage, drinking, absence and “excessively” pushing of a guy who taunted him about his wife’s death.
Cordell standing trial, awaiting judgment on his actions.
Cordell: Yeah. You're right. I had a lot of dark in me, and it just took hold [echoes of Sam Winchester]. And I don't want that to ever happen again. It shouldn't be an excuse. And it's not. I know I need to do better, and I will do better. I promise. But I might need your help.
Micki: I'm not going anywhere.
It’s unclear to me what Stella means by the following question, but the answer ends up being another indictment of Cordell:
Stella: Uncle Liam, would you have let my dad be a Ranger again, after everything that happened?
Liam: I didn't think that he was ready. But I know that he wants to change. And I know that he's trying to be at peace.
Was Stella asking about her dad going back to work a year ago, or a week ago? Was Liam saying Cordell wasn’t ready to go undercover a year ago, or to get his badge back after his leave of absence? This was a perfect opportunity to say that we all let him down, yet the spotlight is only focused on Cordell’s failings. Well, I guess a redemption storyline works better if everyone agrees you were lost – even if the audience still sees you as a sympathetic hero.
Title Thread: Dig
Besides the Supernatural Easter egg of Cordell believing he went darkside, you have to love the call back to Sam digging graves! Jared’s resume should highlight his experience with a shovel and his expertise in nighttime hole digging! I also couldn’t get out of my mind the behind-the-scenes picture of Richard Speight, Jr’s first directorial episode on Supernatural:
Need an impromptu grave? Call the duo of JP and RSJ!
More seriously, the episode’s title refers to digging graves and digging for answers – a quest I’m not sure ends with Stan’s duplicity. We may learn more about that in the next episode.
The title could also refer to the “digs” Trey’s mom good naturedly slipped in about the wisdom of him having a relationship with a woman who has priorities other than motherhood. Again, I was surprised that a woman’s career was being questioned. To double down on being annoying, their family drama somehow gave Micki another opportunity to put in a “dig” about Walker:
Trey: I know you're worried about that work-life balance.
Micki: Walker says no one ever figures it out. Maybe he's wrong.
Sorry, Micki, but again, I don’t think you’re giving Cordell enough credit. No one ever figures it out. You try something, then the requirements of your job change, or your partner’s availability changes, or the kids grow into different stages of school, sports, friends and emotional dependence. You never “figure it out.” You just go for it and do the best you can every day. Cordell’s a single dad of two teens and you’re just beginning a serious relationship. Why do you feel you know more about parenting than he does? The whole baby, birth control, woman’s career sub-plot was oddly placed in such an important game-changing episode, but it was just one of the many (annoying) false alarms and distractions that delayed getting to the death bed confession and car crashing action that lit up the end of the episode.
You’re Not Hearing Me
Hearing someone’s point of view, i.e. their side of things, was a thread clearly woven throughout this episode. Micki spoke into a microphone in the gym so that she could be clearly heard. Stella repeated "Spirit Week" over and over to make sure everyone heard her excitement. Hopefully, the reporter's recorder was on and captured Stan's full confession. That's something people will need to hear! Additionally, having people listen and hear your truth was shouted loudly throughout the dialog:
Bret: I have not heard of the week whose name we shall not speak.
Cordell to Group: All right, witness who called it in wanted to remain anonymous, but they said they overheard an explicit threat to both candidates.
Cordell to Micki: I heard you never had your chance to talk to Stan, or the DBS commission in general about my, uh... behavior.
Disturbed Bomber: I just wanted somebody to hear my side of things, but no one would listen. No one would hear.
Micki about Bomber: He was troubled. Likely harmless in the long run, but he was taken in. Just wanted to be heard.
Cordell: You know, something the would-be security threat said about serving his time, but never being heard made me think about somebody else who served his time and was never heard. Carlos Mendoza. I need to hear his side of things.
Stan: You hear that Bonham? (whose truth is being silenced)
Stan: You should have brought him out here, Ranger. Liam could have set up a plan for the man's rehabilitation and reform.
Reporter: If there's something you're not telling me...
Stan to Reporter: No, no! You're not hearing me!
Augie to Stella: Have you heard from Trevor again?
Everything that was said in this thread about Mendoza, the bomber and maybe even Trevor could have been said about Cordell! No one heard Cordell when he said something was suspicious about Emily’s murder. The subject of Emily’s murder then became taboo, i.e. “the name we shall not speak”, as everyone tried to put that uncomfortable subject behind them. Cordell was “taken in” by everyone’s insistence that he was wrong, then he “did his time” when he was sent away to go undercover. Now that he’s returned, Liam (and Micki) have his rehabilitation and reform all worked out!
Cordell was silenced all this time! He could easily have become a mentally ill bomber who needed to do something drastic to get people to hear him; to take him seriously. In fact, with him “kidnapping” Stan, maybe Cordell did do something extreme to finally get people to listen to him.
It’s About Time (ing)
I'm betting that Cordell's old flame becomes a future love interest!
“Dig” was an odd blending of two different stories. Half the episode was about casual reunions and sentimental reflections on life that occur when one gets nostalgic or introspective. Teens ate wings, signed yearbooks, and discussed what they would do on their summer vacation. Adults ate BBQ and talked about the good old days of high school when Cordell was in theater, Liam came out as gay, Cordell made out with his first girlfriend, and he, Hoyt and Geri went to a bar for the first time. Bonham and Abeline discussed wedding plans, while Micki and Trey’s focused on family planning during a future mother-in-law’s first meeting with a new girlfriend. The food, conversations and tone all seemed completely incongruous with the seriousness of a bomb threat at a school or the finality of the last day before elections. Then, suddenly, everything shifted gears and we were in a riveting climax to the season’s mystery.
I get that it was all pulled together by the themes of endings and new beginnings, or said another way, the past and the future, secrets and lies (vs. truths), or nothing is as it seems - and all the threads we've tracked all year. The themes this year have been consistently presented, including Cordell's guilt and desire for redemption, and the need for reform on numerous social issues. This week’s social message was how to better handle “troubled” individuals in our legal system. It was an enlightened, compassionate view of mental health needs versus public safety, and how social agencies can help these individuals more than jails. Great job here, too. The pursuit of the show's messages and its on-going plot was just so good in the concluding half of this episode, it's clear deep thought has been put into the storyline.
That's why the excessive time on character exposition and silly scenarios disappointingly robbed time and attention from Stan’s confession, Cordell’s ambush and the show's potential. I’m all for characters, but maybe a different week? To put it in words that Supernatural fans will appreciate, the slow monster of the week story didn’t blend well with the exciting myth arc climax.
Still, I loved the ending! More Cordell facing off with the demon, please! Emboldened, smart, fiery Cordell is definitely worth waiting for!
I also loved the actress who played Trey’s mama (did she remind anyone else of Missouri Mosely?), the cow in the gym, and the very dramatic shots of the car crash.
A brilliant shot by Speight!
One more to go. Let’s hope Cordell is redeemed, both personally and as a Ranger. That’s an episode I definitely want to hear.
What did you think of this episode? Please share your thoughts below!
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Texas Government Research: Texas DPS