Once again, there were things I liked about this episode, and things I really didn’t. So instead of recapping chronologically, I’ll talk about the good stuff up front, and give fair warning if you want to bail before we get to the parts that have my knickers in a twist.
The episode starts with drama, but not the kind we were expecting. We knew Hoyt had gone to the ranch to confront Cordell over Geri, but when Cordell and Stella arrive, it’s Clint’s boys who come roaring up, heavily armed. Nice, action-packed way to start out!
The flashbacks provided some interesting insights into Emily’s last day, and then how the Walker family dealt with the aftermath of Emily’s death,
as well as Cordell’s state of mind and what fed into it.
Liam debates taking a permanent job in New York City.
Bonham has cancer—which he keeps secret—and punches Gary (not for the first time) over the affair with Abbie. Abbie says she ended the affair, but her comment about ‘with everything going on’ she belongs at home sounds like she is staying less because of Bonham than she is on account of everyone else.
Stella acts out over Emily’s death by drinking and then getting in a fight over a video game. Liam decides to stay in Austin, at least temporarily. We didn’t really see much of Auggie at all.
We also saw Micki’s instincts lead her to Crystal and suspect something big was going on. That draws the attention of Captain James, and it’s clear why she wanted to leave the State Troopers behind given her old boss’s attitudes.
Seeing Cordell when he was on the inside as Duke interacting with Clint explained his connection to Crystal’s death. Trevor is obviously rocked by his mother’s death, but I wasn’t sure how much of Clint’s reaction was genuine grief as opposed to a way to manipulate Trevor to keep them together.
The reprise of the scene from the beginning of the episode was a nice touch, but now we see it go further and Liam gets shot.
Of course, it’s a cliffhanger, and we have another mini-hiatus before we find out what happens next.
There was some good content in all of that, and while time-hopping made it feel a little disjointed, there probably wasn’t a better way to convey all that information which we apparently need to know for whatever occurs when the show returns.
If you liked the episode, stop here. I have some serious concerns with plot and character issues, as well as an observation about what I think lies at the heart of the show’s uneven depiction of Cordell. If you continue, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The funeral scenes got me boiling mad in Cordell’s defense. He’s just lost his wife, the love of his life, and no one in his family cuts him a break to work through his grief.
Not sleeping, throwing himself into his work, seeming scattered—those are all normal grief reactions for any major loss, especially the death of a beloved spouse. Yet his kids and his parents seem to hold it against him that he’s behaving differently.
Of course he is! (Jared’s acting portrays Cordell’s grief so well. First he’s heartbroken, then ambushed and betrayed, then hurt and confused, and finally his eyes go flat when he puts Cordell aside and becomes Duke.)
Then there is the sacred hitching post incident.
I can’t imagine Cordell being so fast asleep that someone could slide him out of the driver’s seat (especially someone of Jared’s size with his long legs and solid muscle) and then drive away without waking him up. Stella decides to punish her father for inconveniently grieving her mother by crashing the truck into a hitching post and blaming it on him. Auggie goes along with the lie. Bonham acts like three old pieces of wood (that aren’t even broken) are the Holy Grail and lays on more guilt.
I’ve gone from being frustrated with Stella to deeply disliking her. Her little trick pushed Cordell away—and then she blames him for leaving and refuses to forgive him for going. Her relentless self-absorption has put her, her friends and her family in danger in nearly every episode, but the adults never sit her down for a reckoning. Now, her fling with Trevor (which nearly got her captured) has gotten Liam shot and might get Cordell killed. I’ve lost all sympathy and I’m tired of having to make excuses for a character who had promise but has been written to be ultimately unlikeable.
The family stages an intervention because Cordell isn’t over Emily’s murder two months after the fact, despite him being further traumatized by being on the phone with her when she was shot and hearing her die. Not to mention the investigation into her murder going on around him. Then his boss and the DA reprimand him for looking into her death (later proven to be right, because the powers that be were corrupt).
I understand why he left. (I’m just really not sure why he came back.) No one supported him—even Emily’s ghost called him a ‘coward’. No one empathized with his grief. The intervention seemed more focused on shame and blame than acknowledging that he was hurting and healing. His grief made the people around him uncomfortable and so they pressured him to hide it and lie. So Cordell chooses to hide and lie in a different way, by going undercover so he can escape and become someone else for a while.
(Which makes me wonder—when he was with Twyla Jean, did he close his eyes and imagine Emily instead? Did he call out Emily’s name during passion, or murmur it in his sleep? Was Twyla Jean just part of his cover, or did he use her as a substitute and a way for a desperately lonely and broken man to make it through the night? Sure would be nice to know these things!)
Cordell infiltrates the Rodeo Kings, whose crime spree has already killed ten people. His willingness to shoot through the door (at Micki, but he doesn’t know her yet) struck me as unlikely. What would he have done if Micki hadn’t left on her own? Was he that lost in the Duke persona, or was he playing a dangerous game of chicken to see if Clint would blink first?
Crystal wants to stop the robberies, but Clint wants one more score. Duke encourages doing one last heist. Crystal gets killed.
Was Cordell, at some deeply internalized level, also expecting to die on the job? He’s certainly not responsible for the consequences that happen as a result of the criminals’ choices
Clint blaming Crystal’s death on Cordell makes sense since he’s a criminal and taking personal responsibility isn’t his strong point. But let’s remember that Cordell infiltrated the gang as a Texas Ranger to catch them in the middle of a hold-up. He wasn’t their friend, and he wasn’t there to convince them to go straight. He went in with the clear intention to betray them. That’s what undercover law enforcement does. But somehow, even though he completed his mission at great personal cost, it didn’t seem to be acknowledged or appreciated by his boss and definitely not by his family. And he’s still coming up on a DPS hearing, although he’s put himself in danger several times now to shut down the Rodeo Kings.
My suspicion is that the writers are not seasoned enough to deal with a very complex story arc. I believe the plan for the season story arc was nuanced and ambitious, but individual episodes too often gets handed over to script writers who aren't experienced enough to handle it.
None of the adults except Micki and Trey are written with empathy for the way an adult would feel, think or react in their situations. Liam appears to have forgotten he was engaged. No matter how dangerous the stunts are that Auggie and Stella pull, no adult sets them straight or imposes significant consequences. Abbie appears to be cruelly taunting Bonham with love letters left out in plain view and an old engagement ring stuck in a kitchen drawer, but we don’t get the feeling it’s because she wants him back.
Since no alternative explanation is given or even hinted at, I have to chalk it up to bad writing and to writers who aren’t really inhabiting the heads of the characters.
Most of all, I don’t think the writers really empathize with Cordell. Even though it's his show, his character isn't being presented in a sympathetic light.
It’s great that the show wants to deal with the problems with policing, and it should. That brings a fresh, timely and long-overdue perspective and has the potential to make the show a conversation starter instead of just another shoot ‘em up crime drama. But I also wonder if that same commitment gets in the way of the writers when it comes to empathizing with Cordell.
In other words, is the awareness of systemic problems with policing (in terms of misogyny, racism, corruption, unchecked privilege, and excessive use of force) getting in the way of the writers being able to empathize with a character whose struggle isn't with race or orientation but is instead with unlearning toxic masculinity and white male privilege and discovering a healthy, strong alternative?
Cordell needs to grieve and deal with loss, but his family pushes him to stuff those feelings down in order to meet their own needs.
He recognizes that he can't go bashing heads together like he used to, but now he’s written to appear indecisive instead of showing him finding a new way to win while staying within the law.
He's questioning who he is if he's not Emily's husband and not the kind of cop he learned to be—who he was taught to be by example and by a system that rewarded that behavior—and instead of the writers treating that as a journey that calls upon internal strength to achieve reinvention, they've just left him twisting in the wind.
Sam and Dean Winchester showed us that flawed, broken, grieving heroes who made big mistakes could still be strong, heroic, and decisive and could change, grow, and find atonement, redemption, and peace.
We have the opportunity to see the same epic hero’s journey with Walker. Jared and the cast have brought their A-game every week. But they need writers who are up to the task and who have the skills to convey those complex emotions with nuance and real empathy. So far, the show’s writers haven’t proven that they can carry the weight.
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Screencaps by Raloria on LJ; Article Illustrated by Nightsky.