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Wow! What a great season opener. If the rest of Season 3 is like this, it will be worth some growing pains in the earlier seasons. World on a String had a great mix of crime drama vs. family drama, lots of tension, and some well-crafted character building without forced errors or non sequiturs to throw us out of the moment. Well done!

I’m going to go light on recap since other reviews cover that, and focus mostly on impressions.

I liked that the episode picks up immediately after the end of last season, and gives us a visual recap so we didn’t forget. It’s interesting that Stella is the one whose intuition picks up that Cordell is in trouble first and insists the others take her concern seriously. Liam finds Cordell’s watch, and later notices that it was stopped at the time of the kidnapping—a clue left behind for them to find. Trey does the right thing and calls Captain James.

There were a lot of character vignettes in this episode that brought individuals into clear focus. Abeline and Bonham share just a few lines about it being right to gift some of the disputed land back to the Davidsons was a nod to last season’s big arc. Abeline’s comment about being tied to her children with an ‘invisible string’ not only connects to the episode name, but also to the coded message Cordell receives in his cell, and the threads—sometimes tangled—that tie the characters together.

Alone in his cell, Cordell imagines himself talking with Emily’s ghost. I didn’t find that strange at all. As a calming mechanism, it’s exactly what Cordell would do to ease his tension in a bad situation. And as a plot device, having him talk out loud—either to himself or to Emily’s ghost—means the viewer isn’t just watching Cordell thinking hard and puttering around. We know what he’s doing and why—and what is going through his mind. Despite his own dangerous situation, he’s upset that he’s ruined the graduation party and is not there for his family like he promised to be—an interesting insight into how much guilt he still hasn’t resolved from before.

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Back at the ranch, we get some telling moments. Auggie and Liam play a bit of a piano duet—a nice way for Liam to show his nephew that he’s there for support and maybe bring back happier memories. Auggie stares at the paused board game, a good visual for how the family keeps being interrupted. I don’t know why Captain James spoke to everyone in the room except Liam—why does Liam keep being overlooked? He goes out to sit on the porch, and we can guess that he needs to be alone to sort out his feelings.  

Found family starts to show up in support. First Ben—Cassie’s brother and Liam’s new boyfriend—then Colton and Geri. We get an interesting insight into Liam’s relationship with Cordell when he tells Ben about how he and his brother would play out rescue scenarios and it always bothered him when Cordi pretended to be hurt, even when he knew it wasn’t real. Geri bakes Emily’s cookie recipe, and admits she’s keeping busy to stay sane. Colton and Geri decide to stay at the ranch to help. 

The graduation party decorations are a poignant symbol that everything has gone wrong. Both Stella and Abeline worry that this might be the time Cordell doesn’t make it home, although Abeline does tell Liam that she is trusting her intuition—“I believe in the art of just knowing.” Later, when she starts to take down the decorations, we can feel her hope flagging, and she admits that she can’t hold in her feelings anymore. 

Cassie is deeply invested in finding Cordell from the start, and I love her loyalty. She’s also very perceptive, and picks up a clue from the photograph of the fake date she realized was doing recon. That leads them to a warehouse but not to Cordell. Cassie picks up what she believes is a clue, but James won’t listen. (I bet it does turn out to be important. It’s the trope of a woman saying something vital and it being overlooked by a man only to turn out to be essential.)

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Cordell uses his military and Ranger training as a captive, first to try to make an emotional connection to Neo, and then to withstand interrogation. I’ve got to admit that when they threw the bucket of water on him and then set up the chair to waterboard him, I was expecting a Sam Winchester “I’ve been tortured by the devil himself” moment! 

I also loved Stella telling Auggie that he couldn’t leave the ranch even though she was going to go help the search because it’s her job as the big sister to keep him safe. Such a Dean Winchester thing to say! Did anyone else hear Supernatural echoes when Auggie responds that Stella is ‘acting like dad’ and playing the ‘selfish hero’ while the little brother is always the one to clean up afterwards? (That pretty much summed up the Winchester brother fights in the first two seasons of Supernatural—nice job, Walker writers!)

I’m intrigued to find out more about Melissa, the captured reporter who was upstairs from Cordell’s cell and who dropped him the origami crane (a symbol of hope) with the knot code. She shouts several coded messages as she’s taken away, which makes me wonder if she’s also ex-military or ex-law enforcement. 

Liam asks a neighbor for the SD card from their trail camera, hoping to pick up something about Cordell’s abduction. Trey goes over the map of the Walker ranch, looking for clues. I love how everyone pitches in to help.

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Seeing Cordell in the cell reminded me both of Sam in The Benders and in the Cage with Lucifer. And when Cordell begs Emily’s ghost to stay—“Don’t leave me”—even Jared admitted in an interview he was channeling the barn scene from Supernatural’s finale between Sam and Dean. His defiant “I’m not broken” also made me think of all the times Sam Winchester saw himself as too shattered to redeem. Lots of callbacks!

When the bad guys bring in Liam as a captive to put pressure on Cordell, we once again have that ‘brother moment’ like in Supernatural, because we know anyone who touches little bro is going to pay for it. 

We had several loose ends that are likely to be important. The peanuts from the warehouse, the reporter upstairs and her comment that suggests this all has something to do with Fenton’s illicit activities, and what Cordell’s captors want from him all remain mysterious. I want to know whether Liam was really careless enough to get himself captured, or is he bait to lead the rescuers to their location? We’ll have to tune in again next week to find out!

The writing and pacing were well done in this episode, raising my hopes the show really has hit its stride. As always, Jared and the cast turned in a great performance!

Find more of Gail's commentaries on her Writer's Page.