The Morning After
Walker’s thirteenth episode, “Defend the Ranch”, was originally written to be Walker’s first season finale. It tragically concluded several on-going dramas that had been hanging over the heads of Cordell and his family, and ended with a cliffhanger disappointment for its lead character. Sadly, all of the resolutions were the exact opposite of what I had hoped to see. Let’s first explore why things happened the way they did before getting to what I really want to talk about: the title thread.
I made the following observation in my Threads review for 1.11 “Freedom”:
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.
In balance, I added:
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… Mostly, I love Cordell Walker as a character.
At the time, I considered these to be initial impressions, the result of individual writers experimenting with the pace, complexity and characters of the show. Admittedly, many shows don’t know what will work for them when they are just getting started, so they spend a good part of their first season bumping into themselves while they wander around searching for the key to the show’s success. That’s understandable. It takes time to discover each show’s specific chemistry. Now, though, I’m wondering if this was more the formula for the first season than the start-up learning curve.
Applying each previously identified plot device to this episode:
- Events aren’t completely explained
- Trey told the teens to “cut down to the bullet hole” by making “an incision with the blade to pop into the chest cavity” to “relieve the pressure.” Was the bullet still in Liam or was there an exit wound? Then a 4” diameter branding iron is the smallest thing they had to cauterize a wound caused by a small bullet and a pocket-knife incision?
- Cordell apologized to Hoyt, saying “If I hadn't... you wouldn't even been at the ranch. And now I got you mixed up in all of this” but Walker didn’t have any way of knowing why Hoyt was at the ranch. Hoyt’s proposal, Geri’s rebuff, and Hoyt’s resulting trip to confront Cordell all happened while Cordell was away rescuing Stella. He couldn’t have known why Hoyt was at his house.
- How did Micki know to go to that bridge? She suddenly decided to leave HQ to join a high speed chase? There's no way she could have known Walker was involved.
- Did Walker turn in his badge because of the suspension or as his resignation? Such a key climactic moment, and I don't know what it signified. Just a short phrase from Captain James could have clarified what happened.
- Characters do unbelievably dumb things
- Bonham came home and immediately saw trouble, but instead of calling Micki for help, he got his gun and wandered into the mess himself. When he found Liam shot, Bonham still didn’t call for help. Instead he took the time to move a wounded man, risking further bleeding, discovery by the bad guys and capture. When he finally called for help, he told Micki “I need you help out at the ranch” rather than “Armed gunman are here, Liam’s shot, and I need backup!” Predictably, he was found, his gun was confiscated and he became one more hostage with no help on the way.
- Micki sensed that the “weird call” from Bonham “felt off” and the Captain concurred that Walker “seemed a little off” but neither Cordell’s current nor his former partner thought enough of him or their ranger instincts to investigate.
- After Micki found Cordell and he explained the hostage situation, she said “what the hell am I supposed to say?” Was she actually angry at them for committing the crime? Was she considering arresting the guys for bank robbery??? How about alerting the Captain to Walker’s stand-off??
- A Texas Ranger with a shotgun is involved in a fire fight, but the civilian with a pistol runs up right next to the bad guy.
- Cordell Walker is blamed for everything. This is the heart of the matter, so let’s discuss this later.
Nothing Is As It Seems
Clint gives the boys an empty gun, so they're not really armed for their "armed robbery"
As the intended season finale, “Defend the Ranch” was co-written by the show runner, Anna Fricke, so it’s reasonable to conclude that she brought things to a close exactly how she wanted them to go. “Nothing is as it seems” was a thread identified in prior reviews because it appeared seeds were being sown for future surprises in the story, but given how the plots were all resolved, it seems “everything was as it first appeared.”
- Emily was killed by some random, previously unknown, Northside Nation drug runner who panicked when an unarmed woman wandering alone in the desert got too close.
- Geri wasn’t complicit in Emily’s death. Her absence from the water run that night was nothing more than bad luck, and her killing the actual murderer was nothing more than good luck.
- Captain James wasn’t a co-conspirator who intentionally botched Emily’s murder investigation.
- The Mexican drug cartel never came after the Walkers, despite bombing Liam’s rental car. That looming threat fizzled out with a few arrests at a poker game.
- Liam’s engagement is off. He won’t explain to his fiancé that he lied to protect him.
- There won’t be any consequences for Geri laundering money for the cartel (presumably because she was being extorted?).
What other plot teases should be added to season one’s “case closed” list? Do you honestly believe that the simple explanation is all we’ll ever get for these potential story tangents? We’ve found some exciting layering in prior episodes, so despite the season’s planned ending, I’m still hopeful there’s more to come.
Title Thread: Defend the Ranch
In my view, all of the issues listed above detracted from the episode’s potential impact. It could have been so much more, given three months of build-up and well-developed characters. On the plus side, the season’s climax was bolstered by very strong performances from the cast. It’s obvious how much heart they’re putting into the show and how much they want it to succeed. Keegan especially did an outstanding job and deserves credit for stellar acting (one person didn’t work for me but I thought everyone else was exceptional, including the three teens!).
My lasting impression from the episode won't be about all these quibbles with its writing, however. Despite its flaws, I think “Defend the Ranch” may have succeeded in defining what the show is really about.
Walker: Hey, um, what's the word from the DPS Commission?
Captain: They said that after recent events...
Walker: Uh, okay, just... Yeah. Let me guess. Two weeks probation?
Walker: That's not right. That's not right. You know that. James, my past caught up with me. And I got my best friend killed. I... almost got my brother killed. I put my kids' lives at risk, my parents, my... And for what? You were right. You were right. We have to do better. I-I... I have to do better.
When I first heard that conversation, I was SO relieved that Walker was finally standing up for himself! No, it wasn’t right that he got two weeks probation for… what exactly? For throwing down a person who purposely taunted him about his wife’s death? Was that why Walker was being reprimanded? If so, two weeks suspension seems harsh (given the circumstances). I expected him to be cleared, but I can accept (and welcome) that the rangers have a strict code of conduct.
But then I realized that Walker felt he deserved worse. He expected to lose his job! Over one incident that occurred on his first day back from a year-long undercover assignment? Why does Cordell have such a low opinion of himself? Why does he feel that he deserves all the bad things that have happened to him?
Walker went undercover when his family pressured him to get back to “normal” just a few months after his wife was murdered. He wasn’t given time to grieve. He wasn’t given practical or emotional support while he learned how to be a widower and a single parent. Ironically, Cordell’s tormentor, Clint, was the only one who recognized and acknowledged Walker’s pain:
He was broken when he came to us. We saved him, made him whole again.
I hope those words cut like a knife through Cordell’s parents’ hearts. They should have been the ones to do that for their son. Instead, their ridicule and impatience, coupled with grieving teens’ desperate need for their father, drove him to seek shelter among criminals. He literally fled reality by escaping into gang family culture.
But his family doesn’t deserve all the blame. Cordell’s captain didn’t pull his undercover agent when he asked for help. His partner didn’t believe him when he said he couldn’t reconcile the facts of his wife’s murder case. Now in the present, his new partner has criticized him (her superior officer) on every case they’ve worked together. When she found him in a crisis, with his family held hostage, her first reaction wasn’t to believe and support him with whatever he needed.
Add Cordell’s best friend Hoyt to the circle of accusers. With his heart broken by a failed engagement proposal, Hoyt chose to lash out at Cordell for Geri’s kiss. She kissed Cordell, and maybe he didn’t pull away fast enough, but he now feels that too is his fault.
Cordell: I'm sorry.
Cordell: Hoyt, I messed up. This is my fault.
If the kiss is his fault, then Hoyt being at the house is his fault, so by extension, of course now Cordell thinks it’s his fault that Hoyt got killed. Guilty as charged. But where does responsibility for others’ actions end?
Emily chose to go on dangerous humanitarian missions. She chose to go alone when Geri bailed. The drug runners chose to pull the trigger. None of that was Cordell’s fault.
Clint wanted to do “one more job.” Absolutely there is room for self-doubt because Duke chose to support Clint instead of Crystal when she wanted to quit, but Walker’s superiors were pushing to catch the gang in the act. He was ordered to bring down murderers, and that’s exactly what he did, I personally wondered if that could be called "entrapment", but sorry, Clint, you chose to rob banks. That wasn’t Cordell’s fault.
Cordell closed out his undercover job and came home, but August rekindled communication with the gang, forcing Duke to reappear. When Cordell came up with a way to put Duke to rest a second time by faking his death, Stella blew that cover story when she chose to keep dating the son of the guy her dad put in prison. Cordell didn’t connect his family to his work, his kids did that.
Then Clint chose revenge and Trevor chose his father over the Walkers. The stand-off, Hoyt’s death, Liam’s gunshot wound – none of that was Walker’s fault.
1.12 "A Tale of Two Families"
All these plots coming together and being laid squarely at Walker’s feet made it painfully clear that Walker is everyone’s whipping boy. No one wants to admit or accept responsibility for the part they played in the events of the past year. Instead, it’s easier to blame Walker. He is under siege, not the ranch, and no one is defending him.
Who do you want to be, Trevor? In this moment? You want to be who he expects you to be? Or you want to be me? 'Cause if it were me right now, I... I'd pull that trigger. Hell, yes, I would. But you're not me.
Except Walker was in a position of holding a gun on his wife’s murderer, and he didn’t pull the trigger! He made the tough, right choice, but he doesn’t even give himself credit for that. If everyone around you tells you that you’re useless and a loser, you start to believe it.
1.12 "A Tale of Two Families"
Cordell’s identity as a husband and father was grounded in Emily. When she died, he was adrift, and everyone he loved told him he was failing. His professional identity as a ranger was shattered when his trusted allies told him his instincts were wrong, his undercover operation was investigated by the DA, and his arrests were sent to internal affairs. Now his criminal family is telling him that he betrayed them, and doesn’t live up to even their warped sense of loyalty. From what I’ve seen, this guy provided for his kids and took them to school, was right about his wife’s murder, and broke up a murderous biker gang, yet he’s repeatedly told he’s a failure.
For a few seconds, Micki stood up for him,
Who do we really think is responsible for her death? The man who tried to stop the crime? Or the man who had killed before and wouldn't stop...
but notably, even that defense was cut short.
To me, the most important thing that happened in the season’s intended finale wasn’t Hoyt’s death, the resolution of the West family threat, or suspecting that none of the sub-plots mentioned above will be pursued. Instead, “Defend the Ranch” drove home that Walker is about Cordell’s journey, and we are meeting him as a battered, ridiculed man. Life broke him down, and the people in his inner circle, i.e. his friends, family and colleagues, are burying him in guilt and shame for being a human being in need. No one is defending the homestead, namely, Walker.
1.12 "A Tale of Two Families"
The one exception may be his brother (even though he initially ridiculed Walker for not being there for his kids). Liam redirected his life and literally took a bullet to help his brother. Obviously, Jared knows his Supernatural family is with him in Walker, so a brother having his brother’s back? Maybe there’s no other way that Jared’s show could go.
Stella: you earned yourself a new tattoo
While the use of the branding iron seemed like overkill, it provided a clever call back to Sam and Dean’s anti-possession tattoos (on a brother no less)! Poor Liam! Then Hoyt's parting words to his "brother" (Cordell's word in the car earlier),
I always knew it would end this way.
Their goodbye was Cordell's hand on Hoyt's chest, with Hoyt's hand holding Cordell's. It looked eerily similar to another brother's goodbye we saw 6 months ago but I am not watching that scene again to confirm exact words. It was enough to recall to mind that memory, though, as was Cordell's real brother appearing out of nowhere to save his life. The brothers collapsed into a hug of relief. A Supernatural broment for sure.
1.12 "A Tale of Two Families"
I now have an understanding of Walker that makes sense to me. If I accept that the story is about Cordell constantly fighting to prove himself to others, even though that isn’t fair and shouldn’t be necessary, I can more easily go with the flow. Despite hoping the show’s writing improves in time, each week I still look forward to the next chapter in Cordell’s story. With his fans in his corner, at least our favorite ranger isn’t entirely alone.
What did you think of this episode? Please share your thoughts below!
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Some screencaps by Raloria on LJ
Transcript Quotes courtesy of tvshowtranscripts