The Morning After
“Bar None”, the sixth installment in Walker’s first season, continued the series’ positive trend of each episode improving over the last. Focusing primarily on character exploration and family dynamics, the duo writing team of Casey Fisher & Paula Sabbaga delivered a story with nuanced emotions and multi-layered intrigue. The last few minutes of the episode then stepped up the game with shocking revelations which fleshed out a seasonal arc that is far more interesting than the simplistic case-of-the-week crimes that had taken up valuable screen time in the show’s first few episodes.
Trying to Recreate the Past
What does one do on the first anniversary of the death of a loved one? Stella and August wanted to preserve a tradition they remembered as being one of their mom’s favorite activities. Cordell wanted to preserve a place that was filled with happy memories. Abeline wanted to preserve the close relationship with her grandchildren that had developed over the past year. As happens more often than not in life, no one was able to recreate the idyllic past of their memories.
The camping expedition was beset with mishaps and misunderstandings that ruined everyone’s “perfect” day. Stella and August wanted their dad with them, but his emotional weight kept him away. “Mawline” (is this a Texas-ism? I didn’t understand what they were saying until I saw the word in the episode’s transcript!) and granddad assumed they were the obvious choice to be both drivers and chaperones, but their presence was neither anticipated nor wanted. Stung by yet another absence by her dad, Stella made plans for a teens’ day away – a plan that didn’t go over so well with the adults. August was going along for the ride (both literally and figuratively) with the whole camping idea, but the car had its own needs that interfered with them even beginning their doomed campout. Some days are like that. Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong, so Stella didn’t’ get her imagined alone time with her boyfriend, Mawline didn’t get bonding time with her granddaughter, and August and Bonham didn’t get their quiet time with nature. Meanwhile, Cordell’s attempts to shore up his past collapsed in heaps of broken lumber, while he and his partner worked out their respective emotional baggage with each other.
Nothing is as it Seems
Two fascinating themes emerged from watching everyone’s day go awry. First, nothing in Walker’s life is as it seems:
- The kids believed that their mom loved camping, but Cordell revealed that they were wrong. Emily hated camping. She just loved what it brought out in her children.
- Micki’s mom lied about being randomly assigned to Cordell’s case. Instead, the pairing was rigged. She had specifically asked to interrogate Cordell to discredit him and “teach her daughter a lesson”, something that Micki suspected all along. At this point, it’s unclear if the mom’s white flag was entirely or only partially a false pretense for trying to reconnect with her daughter.
- Carlos believes that Hoyt was randomly assigned as his cell mate, but in reality the pairing was rigged to expose insider secrets. Hoyt is a willing party to the deception because he benefits from a reduced sentence, and he may uncover the truth about the murder of one of his best friends. He is now an undercover operative, spying for Liam Walker and befriending someone under false pretenses.
- Hoyt discovers that, despite Carlos’ confession, he could not have murdered Emily, confirming Liam’s, and before him, Cordell’s, suspicions. It appears Carlos was a willing party to the murder conspiracy deception because it benefitted his family and gave his remaining days of life a noble purpose.
- Liam lectured his brother about accepting the outcome of Emily’s trial and moving on with his life, but Liam has now become suspicious and is going behind his brother’s back to uncover the truth. It turns out the trial wasn’t as squeaky clean as the new district attorney believed it to be.
- Micki’s mom isn’t as squeaky clean as Micki perceives her to be. During the last few jaw dropping moments of the episode, Dr. Ramirez was arrested, shattering Micki’s image of her mom’s perfect life.
- Trevor isn’t as squeaky clean as Stella believes. He is more than anxious to betray her trust to benefit his family. It seems he’s now an undercover mole, spying on the Walker family for his dad.
- It appears Cordell’s time as an undercover spy within Trevor’s family will come back to haunt him, despite all his attempts to bury Duke in the past.
- Even a hideous boar head, which is, by most reasonable standards, ugly and unlovable, was a beloved present from Emily to Cordell, and her favorite thing about Geri’s bar!
If it seems to you like everyone is spying on everyone else, you might be surprised to learn that the word “spy” was also a subliminal theme within the story:
August: I spy with my little eye something that starts with a T.
Trevor: Tire iron.
Bonham: Where do you spy a tire iron?
Stella: I spy smoke!
Bonham: I spy a heart melting.
Given all the parallel deceptions, there's a good chance that Geri isn't behind the hush money payments to the convicted guy’s sister.
Geri: I need a fresh start, and selling this place could be a clean break for me.
Why did Geri need to sell so fast? It’s a little too coincidental that she got scared and wanted to leave town at the same time Capt. James found out that Liam was reopening Emily’s case.
Captain James was also the person who miraculously uncovered that the payments to Carlos’ sister’s art gallery were from Geri’s company. If you were going to pay someone to falsely confess to a murder, would you be stupid enough to pay them from your publicly registered company’s accounts? Geri was Emily's best friend! Would she have the connections to pull off a conspiracy like this? Was she pressured into something by Walker's boss, and is now leaving town because she's afraid of him (more "avoidance strategy")? On the other hand, Geri did skip town just as the Captain and Liam reopened the investigation, and James did suggest putting Hoyt undercover, which gave them valuable intel. So, which of these two do you think is the culprit?
Secrets within secrets. This is the second theme connecting everyone’s lives. Liam and Cordell’s boss/old partner are hiding from him the fact that they’re reopening Emily’s case. Weeks ago we learned that Abeline had some kind of mysterious relationship with another man – a secret she defended keeping because she is a parent who doesn't need to share every truth with her children.
Abeline: Now, we're still the parents here, and we get to have our secrets. (1.04 “Don’t Fence Me In”)
“Bar None” is an apt title that not only refers to the pending change of ownership of the Side Step Bar, but also the fact that everyone, bar none, is hiding something, and nothing is as it seems. It’s an occupational hazard, but Mawline’s utterance of the word “secret” sparked a suspicion that a thread, i.e. an on-going theme, was being woven into Walker’s story. From what we saw in the cliffhanger teases at the end of this episode, I believe that word is going to gain increasing importance in the coming weeks.
Hope, Fueled by Family
Despite all the lies and the continued emphasis on grief, one of the reasons why I’m warming up to Walker is that all the main characters strive to do better and always look for hope, no matter the circumstances. Stella rolled up her sleeves and fixed the car. Abeline gave the leftover food to Trevor to make up for her earlier brashness. Micki laughed when her mom admitted her lie about manipulating cases so she could evaluate Cordell for herself. Cordell chose to plead guilty to his explosion of rage at a detainee, owning up to his mistake and promising to do better.
What seems to separate the good guys from the bad guys are their intentions. Abeline and Bonham wanted to support their grandchildren during this difficult transition time for them, while Cordell was trying to support his friend by fixing up her broken down bar. Micki pushed Cordell to the emotional brink because she wanted to support her partner and prepare him for his upcoming hearing. Cordell, in turn, called her out on her avoidance strategy, and made her confront with honesty her desire to beat her mom at her own game. Everyone had self-serving motives for their good deeds, but those needs were deep emotional triggers, hidden from each person until they were forced to see the truth by loving partners or family. They all have “foundational issues” that a few old brackets won’t fix, but a little TLC (tender loving care) goes a long way to patching things up.
Emily: What would you do if I died?
Cordell: If you died? My life would be over. I'd grow a crazy widower beard and drink myself blind and come back here every single night just to feel the faintest spark of joy you brought to me. Then... I'd marry Geri and work at the Side Step.
Cordell’s prediction on his 32nd birthday wasn’t far from the truth. August saw the possibility first, then shared his insightful, healing suggestion with his dad.
Augie: Wait, what if we bought it? With the money from Mom's life insurance. I mean, there'd be enough to redo the place. And it's not so bad. Well, it is, but we could fix it. Turn it into a family place. It's what Mom would've wanted.
Cordell brought them together to “camp” indoors at the bar, combining his and his children’s emotional ties with the past into a solution that honored both their memories and their new reality. Then they figured out a way to make that compromise into a new future for them all.
Emily: Might have taken a while today, but you figured it out. And yes, there's some fixing to be done. But that takes time. Not all things have to be good for them to be good.
Emily’s wisdom applies to the bar, the relationships within both the Walker and Ramirez families, as well as her intended subject, Walker himself.
Quite unexpectedly, another thing I’m loving about Walker is that I feel like I’m watching Jared and Genevieve whenever those two actors have a scene together as Cordell and Emily. I hear Jared seeking Gen’s guidance and strength, and her giving him loving compassion and advice. I hear Jared’s patience with everyone but himself in Walker’s frustrations, but I also then hear the lessons he’s learned about never giving up and always finding hope in tomorrow. I hear him take responsibility for his mistakes but forgive himself and try harder to do better. Their flashback scenes are turning into some of my favorite moments of each show, and maybe even a “foundation” for the series.
Their on-screen chemistry is a huge surprise to me (I always liked Ruby and Sam together but Ruby wasn’t nearly as adorable as Emily) but maybe surprises will turn out to be one of the show’s secret weapons. I’m still trying to figure out Cordell, and Liam, and Abeline, and August, and Micki, and now add to that list Adriana Ramirez and Trevor. I think I have Captain James figured out, but there’s a 50/50 chance I’m wrong and Geri is the bad guy. Trey and Bonham are the only people who seem to be transparent (and luckily, are great characters). I went into this episode thinking everyone’s character inconsistencies were a flaw of the series, but maybe that’s the point. People are complicated. Only time will tell if they end up with multi-faceted personalities that intrigue, or disjointed personalities that confuse. But for the moment, I’m engaged and curious. After all, they don’t all have to be good to be good.