“Defend the Ranch”, Walker’s 13th episode of its first season, explores what happens when the place you think is safe and the people you want most to be safe suddenly aren’t. The guilt and sense of helplessness this creates is felt by all to varying degrees. No one feels those feelings more strongly than …
Walker blames himself for everything. Why Clint is mad and at the ranch. Why his brother’s life hangs in the balance. Why his parents and children are in danger at the hands of a vengeful murderer. Why his best friend is in this fatal situation. Why he has to lie to his partner and captain. He even takes some blame for why Trevor lost his mom.
Jared plays the nuances of emotion perfectly - devastation, anger, bargaining, reluctance, gratitude, and finally, determination. The audience feels the stress of the situation, and Cordell is the perfect gateway - honestly, perhaps a bit too perfect, because though Cordell thinks he is at fault, the audience feels differently. They blame …
Austin Nichols plays this villain flawlessly. Someone who has distorted reality to justify his monstrous actions. Someone who turns a son’s love into a cruel allegiance. A man for whom pain and cruelty is the point. A man whose inability to stop ends up costing him his life, and leaving …
Gavin Casalegno adds a humanity and heart to Trevor as he is torn between a father he fearfully loves and the family of the girl he loves. The struggle within him is constantly apparent. His innate goodness wins repeatedly as he risks his father’s ire to help Stella and August save their uncle. He also refuses to shoot Cordell, the man his father has convinced him is responsible for his mother's death. One feels his pain and devastation as, by the end of the episode, he has lost not only his father, leaving him an orphan, but also …
Stella and August
These two have different levels of guilt, with Stella taking the brunt of it due to her past actions, but they are both called to be mature and cool in the face of being held hostage, and having to save their Uncle Liam’s life. Violet and Kale portray their emotions incredibly well, including their shocked devastation at the end. Because even though they save their uncle, they lose …
Matt Barr shines as the ne’er do well who was in the wrong place at the right time. Though he was there to confront Cordell about kissing Geri, that quickly took a back seat to keeping his adoptive family alive. He uses his life of being a loudmouth to distract Clint from hurting Bonham. He also revels in the fact that his past as an outlaw can help his best friend. He even makes Cordell seem innocent of the robbery, though he does gleefully take a chance to hit Cordell, as he promised when Walker apologized for breaking his trust and getting him involved. It’s Hoyt’s quick thinking that saves the Walkers, but heartbreakingly, he bears the brunt of Clint's revenge. He dies surrounded by those he loves, and who love him, as he is the arms of …
Abeline and Bonham
The matriarch and patriarch suffer the feeling of helplessness the most intensely. Though Bonham does rescue Liam from bleeding out on the sidewalk, he quickly loses all control. He even loses control of his secret cancer diagnosis, as Clint figures this out in front of Abeline. Mitch Pileggi and Molly Hagan wrench hearts as they have to sit by, holding Hoyt’s body as the day is saved by …
Poor Liam, injured himself, but feeling guilt he couldn’t save his family, or himself. Keegan Allen is the epitome of pained bravery. Liam even endures makeshift surgery and branding at the hands of his niece and nephew. He only lets the mask slip after coming to the rescue of his brother and family by having to take a life. He does look good doing it, though, sporting a new “tattoo” that was needed to cauterize the wound, a recommendation by ….
Coach Barnett’s previous medic skills and personal connection to Stella, August, and Trevor save Liam. Trey quickly becomes the calm voice of reason, walking them all through how to save a life.
This leaves …
Micki and Capt. James
Both of these people sit mostly on the outside of the action this episode, though Micki does lend a hand and a shoulder at the end, helping Trevor make the right choice.
Capt. James has to watch helplessly as Cordell decides the job has cost him too much and turns in his badge. Lindsey and Coby use their time on screen to make the maximum impact in their roles.
The characters and their emotions are incredible this episode. It is intense and action packed. Sadly though, continuity remains a weak spot. Though there are great call backs to previous episodes (the brand and the mushroom hunting knife), other parts aren’t so great. The timeline again is wonky, with the DPS hearing that was first scheduled a month ago being delayed for months. The rate at which night falls is also too quick. But those are small errors, and don’t really affect the episode.
The one that pulled me out of the episode and the story was Cordell's sudden, heartfelt apology for kissing Geri and breaking Hoyt’s trust, even though we never see Cordell find out why Hoyt was at the ranch. Yes, there are several ways he could have found out, but since we see none of them, the apology seems to come out of nowhere.
The only other flaw seems to be the unevenness of Micki’s intuition. She can’t tell that Bonham’s call was a cry for help, but can pinpoint the exact moment Hoyt and Walker will be driving across the bridge? It just seems…odd.
Thus, a potentially fantastic episode is reduced to simply a really good one.
3.8 out of 5 stars.
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Screencaps by Raloria on LJ and The CW.