Yes! This is what I’ve been waiting for from Walker. If the show can keep up this level of writing—coherent plot, consistent characterization, and incisive social commentary, it might have a shot at the Emmys for next year. I really hope this means the writers have stepped up their game and that this isn’t just a lucky one-off.
I’m going to comment on the plot threads rather than going in strictly chronological order.
Captain James and the Rangers
Captain James and Micki are on a bust and we quickly discover he’s after a dirty cop (Campbell) who resells the drugs he seizes in the line of duty. Micki wants to be on the inside, and James keeps her out of the loop.
Later, James tells the DA (Grant) that he has evidence about the dirty cop, but the DA tells him to back off and refuses to bring charges. James’ son DJ shows up at the office, and is seen by both Stan and the dirty cop.
Someone torches James’ truck and spray paints ‘Traitor’ on the side.
Later, James picks DJ up after getting him released from his bogus arrest. DJ is angry, shaken because he thought he had safety (privilege) because his dad was a Ranger.
James continues to freeze Micki out of the full information, which frustrates her. It’s possible he’s trying to protect her, expecting major blowback from going after a cop, or that it’s such a sensitive case he doesn’t trust anyone not to compromise it. Micki goes off-script (after all her criticism of Cordell for doing the same thing) and intrudes on a surveillance set-up James is running, which alerts the dirty cop and his buddies.
James calls in Stan and Liam and tells them he has an iron-clad case, but the DA (Grant) won’t file charges.
Liam wants to make some real changes for policing as a whole. Later, he goes to talk to the DA and offers to bring the charges himself. The DA tells him to stay out of it.
Liam threatens to go to the state Attorney General, that the false arrest involving DJ and Stella made the issue personal.
James is pulling another bust together, and Cordell shows up in uniform. “It’s who I am, whether I’m wearing the badge or not.” (Did anyone get echoes of Sam Winchester realizing that hunting is his life?) James swears him in. They go to arrest the dirty cop, who makes a break for it.
Cordell is watching the back door and kicks a cart to knock Campbell down so he can be subdued. (Growth moment—Cordell doesn’t get into a physical fight.)
James makes a comment to Micki about understanding that they need to stick together and have a united front in an organization where they are still seen as ‘other’ because of their ethnicity. He compliments Micki on her leadership skills and says he’ll work at keeping her more in the loop. She admits that before she leads she needs to learn to follow. Cordell says that being a Ranger is ‘more than a badge’, that it’s ‘me—us’.
Liam finds the DA (Grant) packing up his office—he’s going to ‘work from home’ for the rest of his term. He admits that he isn’t fit for duty, and warns Liam, “don’t let the job rob you of your moral compass.”
Trey gets into medical school, and Micki is supportive and wants to celebrate. He’s worried about the effect of his TBI, and has another appointment to see how it’s healing. Oddly enough, Trey is considering not going to medical school because with his TBI he couldn’t operate. There are many, many medical specialties he could choose that don’t ever involve doing surgery, so I wasn’t sure why that was an issue. They also discuss James’ son DJ (‘Rebel with probable cause’) and how much Cordell has changed.
Later, Cordell and Trey go riding, and Trey tells Cordell that his TBI is mild and not considered to be permanent. He hasn’t told Micki that yet, isn’t sure what he wants to do. Cordell tells him to think with his heart and not his brain.
Trey tells Micki he doesn’t want to be a surgeon, he wants to be a psychologist. She supports him, and they find sexy uses for the monogrammed coat she bought him. This became confusing. If Trey went to medical school, he could become a psychiatrist and still would be an MD and not do surgery. If he becomes a psychologist, he needs to complete a Ph.D. program instead of medical school. So I wasn’t sure why he wouldn’t just go to med school and still pursue psychology instead of being a surgeon. (Compared to the logic holes in other episodes, this is minor but stuck out for anyone familiar with the medical field.)
The Walker Family
Cordell and Auggie are sanding rocking chairs. Cordell tells him, “I never needed to be a Ranger to be happy” and that being their dad makes him the happiest. Liam stops in and reports that his rival’s poll numbers are up, and *finally* mentions his ex-fiancé, Bret (remember him?). He says that he really thought about Bret during the shootout when Liam expected to die. Bret is also a good speech writer, and Liam knows he would be an asset. (A quibble—the way Liam juxtaposes the two ideas makes it seem more like he wants Bret for his writing skills than because he misses/loves him.)
The Side Step is now open, doing business and serving food—another area where Cordell has made progress.
Liam goes to see Bret and apologizes for lying to him about having an affair, says that he wanted to protect Bret from the danger and shouldn’t have made the decision to break up for Bret. (I heard echoes of Sam Winchester and the Gadreel mess in Liam’s confession.) He mentions Bret’s skill as a speech writer (maybe not the best transition—it made his timing seem a little transactional), and then a man comes out of Bret’s apartment to see what’s going on—Bret’s new boyfriend. It’s clear that he moved on to a new relationship.
DJ helps Stella fold mailers for Liam’s campaign and offers to take her to the University of Texas to look around. He suggests that she needs to think about what she wants, not what everyone else expects. (Shades of Sam Winchester?) She says she wants to do something that matters. He recommends that she travel and use the time to pull her thoughts together.
When DJ and Stella are on their way back from UT the dirty cop pulls them over and roughs up DJ, then plants drugs on him. Stella protests and uses her camera to film, but the cop arrests DJ and takes him away.
Stella tells Cordell that after Emily died, she wanted him to be present. But then the shootout happened and Hoyt’s death, Liam got shot, and Cordell went to get Stella after DJ was arrested—“you showed up.” It’s finally gotten through to her that ‘the Rangers need you, too’. (She’s grown up a lot—realizing that everything’s not all just about her.) Cordell tells her that the Rangers are fine without him. Stella counters that the world needs good people, and he should do what he does best, that she can’t be selfish and demand that he sit it out.
Auggie agrees, lightening the moment by begging Cordell to go back to the Rangers and not make him sand chairs anymore.
Stella shows Cordell the video of DJ’s arrest. It’s clear they intend to turn it over to James.
Liam tries out his speech on his campaign staff, and Bret shows up. He says that he wanted to make choices together, as a partnership, and got tired of waiting, so he moved on with his own life. He didn’t stop caring about Liam, and he wants to work for the campaign—‘strictly professional’. (Sam Winchester echoes again—‘If you want to work, we’ll work. If you want to be brothers....’)
The Bigger Picture
I really liked this episode on so many levels. The characters were consistent—not doing dumb things for no good reason or contradicting themselves from prior episodes. The plot was solid and coherent even as it wound several strands together from different perspectives. The actions and motivations made sense, instead of being manipulated to advance the plot without regard to canon continuity or logic. There was solid action, and it balanced against good family dynamics.
We didn’t have extra characters popping up to clutter the story. They didn’t try to show us all the characters in one episode, and the teen aspect didn’t overwhelm the adult plot. The plot also discussed important issues—corrupt police and a system that protects them from accountability, racist policing and planting false evidence, use of policing to intimidate activists and minority individuals, the risk of ‘driving while Black’, the use of civilian video in busting bad cops, police brutality, and the ‘othering’ of women and minorities in law enforcement. That’s a lot—and it lives up to the potential this show has always had (but rarely fulfilled) of not only being good drama but also contributing to the national conversation on real-life, tough issues.
Stella, Auggie and DJ all showed growth and maturity, and weren’t used as plot devices or stereotypes. They also showed a combination of introspection about their own thoughts/motivations as well as an expanded perspective on the impact of their actions on others—something that has been a particular problem for Stella.
Micki made mistakes, and did the very things she has criticized Cordell for all season (not following the rules, not listening, thinking he knows better). She was written with more consistency and didn’t veer into blaming Cordell like in many episodes. She also gained perspective about herself. I love that her relationship with Trey is so solid and healthy, and that they have honest conversations instead of making assumptions and jumping to conclusions.
Liam was long overdue to bring up Bret (or act like their breakup even bothered him), so seeing them interact and watching Liam confess that he lied was a necessary step toward healing for both of them. It was also realistic for Bret to have pulled his life back together and moved on, and a good wake-up call to Liam that actions have consequences. (Although I suspect that they’ll get back together again.)
I hope DJ becomes a continuing character, and I was wondering if he and Stella might end up dating. (A much more logical choice than Trevor!). I can’t imagine Cordell being opposed, although I’m not sure how it would go over with Bonham and Abbie. (Although with Liam having been engaged to Bret, who is Asian, it might be a non-issue.)
Captain James realized that he also had areas for improvement. While he was understandably cautious on his high-profile bust, he was also in danger of being a lone wolf—something he criticized in Cordell. We saw him be a good dad in a tough situation. We also saw him swallow his pride and admit that he needed to include Micki more and recognized the need to stand together against being ‘othered’.
Cordell got to be the hero of his own story—finally! His kids came to see him differently, as a person instead of just in his role as father, and to value the importance of his work instead of only seeing its impact on them. Cordell came to realize that while being a father is important to him, being a Ranger is also part of who he is, so hopefully he will be better able to balance work and family.
He obviously accepted the responsibility of owning the Side Step and followed through, which means he was also moving on with his life. Going back to the Rangers with an altered perspective was an important growth step, since Cordell had said before that it was always Emily who imposed balance on him from the outside. Now, he seems ready to regulate that for himself.
‘Moving on’ seemed to be the underlying theme of the whole episode. All of the characters ‘moved on’ from something that was holding them back—grief, immaturity, lack of self-awareness, ego, limited perspective, doubt and fear.
Please, Walker writers—give us more like this! As always, the cast turned in an A+ performance.
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Wonderful Screencaps by Raloria on LJ; Article Illustrated by Gail and Nightsky.