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This week’s episode of Walker missed its chance to give us a “Rubber Meets The Road” moment but it was still pretty enjoyable.

We start off with Cordell and Liam at Ranger HQ after they’ve been granted a medical checkup and a change of clothes. Liam sits alone in the atrium, reliving his time in captivity and fussing over his wounds. Cordell enters and tells him they’re free to go home and there’s a welcome dinner waiting for them. Liam isn’t exactly jazzed for it. He thinks they should go to the hospital, even if the ETMs cleared them. It couldn’t hurt to run a few tests and make sure there’s really nothing wrong with them that could cause long term damage. Cordell doesn’t think that’s necessary, though, and encourages him to get up and come home.

But Liam still isn’t ready. He wants to talk to Cordell about what happened to them. He starts to tell Cordell that he can’t sleep because of the torture he went through but Cordell cuts him off. He says there’s no need to “compare notes” on what happened. They were both in there, they know what happened. But none of that matters now. They’re both alive, they’re both safe, and that’s all that really counts. Liam will get over it in time; they both will. Liam seems unsure of that, but Cordell isn’t giving him room to argue.

Cassie drives them back to the ranch. Geri is waiting for them outside of the smaller house and she greets them both with tight hugs. She tells them that Abeline is likely never going to let them leave the house again and Liam responds with “Yeah, because this place is so safe”.

Side note: Liam, we’re five minutes in and I already want to wrap you in a blanket burrito. I don’t know how much more of this I can take.

Geri tells them that the rest of the family is waiting for them at the main house and Cassie says they’ll start heading that way. But Cordell hangs back to ask Geri what he’s walking into. She informs him that there are plenty of weary eyes and Sad Cookies waiting for him, both of which he expected. She then asks how Liam is handling everything. Cordell glosses over it and says they’ll both be okay. Geri doesn’t seem terribly convinced but she lets him go up to his Welcome Home dinner.

At the main ranch house, everyone is waiting for the Walker brothers’ return, but Cordell is momentarily distracted by the old military photo we saw in last week’s episode. As Sean’s derisive “So this is the war hero, huh?” plays in his head, he’s approached by his mother for a big Welcome Home hug and the rest of the family follows. He plasters on a smile because he has a reason to celebrate.

He insists that he’s fine all the way to the dinner table but, before we can all settle in to enjoy Abeline’s roast, Cordell wants to give Stella the speech he’d practiced for her graduation. She doesn’t really want to hear it but she cannot stop the Dad Energy and he steamrolls forward. He gives this (admittedly sweet) speech about how proud he is of Stella, how he’s looked forward to this moment, and how he knew their mother would’ve loved to have been here for it. Unfortunately, he gets interrupted when Stella notices his hand bleeding. The thin trickle of blood running out from under the protective bandana is an excellent metaphor for how the rest of this episode is going to go.

Now that we’ve reached the title card, I’m going to split this recap up into a few different storylines that cover how our cast of characters are handling the aftermath of Cordell and Liam’s captivity.

Let’s start off with Liam because someone needs to put him first.

After the time skip, Liam is working on the ranch along with his father and tossing out the idea of bringing back Walker Beef. Bonham doesn’t agree with the idea, but Liam has bigger issues on his mind, namely, his trauma hasn’t just gone away like Cordell promised it would.

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Side Note: How big did the Walker family business used to be?

He’s trying to keep things light, like the rest of the family, but the cracks are starting to show. When Cordell mentions that August won’t like the “Stella’s Greatest Hits” playlist he set up for the road trip, Liam comments that little siblings are “used to getting the short end of the stick.” Cordell takes this as a bit of a slight and counters that siblings just have different ways of dealing with things. For example: August can’t seem to shut up about Stella going away to Oregon and how that’s going to impact him, meanwhile Stella hasn’t said a word about it. (Sounds familiar….) Liam agrees and then tries to start a conversation with Cordell about their time in captivity. His trauma hasn’t gotten any better and he would really like to talk about it. Cordell brushes him off and assures him that it will, in fact, get better, he just needs more time. Liam tries to object but Cassie rolls up at just the right-wrong time and accidentally steals the moment away.

Later, Liam finds Abeline finishing Stella’s college road trip cake and calls “dibs” on the leftovers for his fellow road trip buddies. His mother tells him there will be no calling dibs; he’s not a child arguing over a toy anymore. But then the conversation turns more serious. She knows that Liam has his heart set on going on the road trip with Cordell and the kids but when was the last time his brother mentioned taking him? Liam says he’ll ask Cordell about it later but she cautions against it. They’ve reached a shaky equilibrium on the ranch and she doesn’t want to pop the bubble. Liam doesn’t take this too well. Cordell has shut him down one-too-many times and he’s tired of his own trauma being ignored just so Cordell feels better about it. He storms off to his room and ignores Abeline’s protests that she didn’t mean it that way.

Later that night, Bonham finds Liam slamming his way through the toolbox in the workshop. Abeline sent him to talk to their wayward son after the incident that happened that afternoon. Liam says he’ll apologize to her in the morning but that’s not what Bonham came to talk about. He sits his son down and starts telling him about his time coming back from the Vietnam War. 1973-74 was a rough time for him. He may have been back on American soil but sometimes, it was like he could still smell the napalm. He thought it would be enough to just swap stories with the boys down at the VFW, but it never really cut it. Turns out, he found an equine therapist that helped him properly manage and process his trauma. Liam is surprised to hear this; Bonham never really struck him as the therapist type.

Bonham understands that Liam keeps wanting to talk to Cordell because their traumatic captivity was a shared experience. Cordell would 'Get it' like no one else ever could. But, he reminds Liam, Cordell may not be ready to talk about it with him because looking at Liam reminds him of what happened for that exact same reason. Liam doesn’t need to rely on Cordell’s trauma time line to map out his own though; he may not be able to talk to his brother but he can talk to someone else. Liam takes that advice to heart and it looks like we’ll be seeing him tackle the same therapy in next week’s episode.

Next, let’s talk about Cassie.

Cassie read Julia Johnson’s article on her experience being held by Sean’s Band of Sadistic Men and she was nearly traumatized just reading about Cordell’s trauma. She’s concerned about her partner. Will he be able to bounce back from this? Sure, he’s going through the required therapy and physical training but is that enough? Her concern is only bolstered when Trey admits to her that he can’t bring himself to read the article himself. But she’s also worried about looking selfish. How dare she turn her partner’s trauma into something about her?

Side note: Do you think Cordell read Julia’s article because she needed his approval before it would print? Or was he just morbidly curious?

Trey reminds her that what happened to Cordell could’ve happened to any ranger and worrying about it alone won’t do her any good. The only way she can really handle this for herself is to go check on him.

She decides to drop by the ranch later that day and quickly gets roped into road trip prep duty before she can talk. Cordell brings her down to a storage basement and tells her that he and Emily bought a lot of camping supplies when the kids were younger, and he intends to use all of it on the trip. Cassie questions his judgement but helps him look anyway. While looking through boxes, she gets stuck on one that holds his old military gear. Cordell notices and tells her that there won’t be any supplies in that box and she takes the opportunity to ask him for a serious conversation. She wants to talk about the article and her worries. He gives her the floor.

She says that the things she read about, the waterboarding and electrocution among other things, have her worried about him. A lot of what happened to him was made illegal over a decade ago and she’s wondering how she’s going to bounce back from that. On top of everything, she’s still very much a rookie when it comes to being a ranger and this is just one more item on top of a stack of things that she never had to deal with as a Trooper. Working this job has her worried enough as it is that she won’t come home safe and alive. She’s worried that his experience is going to impact his ability to be her partner and she’s, admittedly, scared to get back in the truck with him.

Cordell tries to assure her that he’s fine, even as a leaky pipe gives him terrible flashbacks. He assures her that he’s not rushing back into things like he did after the Rodeo Kings job. He’s taking his time, he’s doing the therapy, and he’ll be back in the saddle before she knows it. Cassie tries to argue that a long undercover stint versus being kidnapped and tortured are two very different things but Cordell brushes off her concerns and she, reluctantly, goes back to looking for camping equipment. She finds his box shortly after that.

Side note: I like that this episode took the time to not only address how trauma affects the traumatized but also the people around them. I’m so used to shows either focusing on one or the other or just not acknowledging it at all, so I like that we got a balance of it in this episode.

Next, let’s talk about Stella and August.

The kids are, obviously, very happy to have their dad home. Stella is ready for him to drive her to college and August is happy to have a workout buddy on his journey to get ripped over the summer time skip. But they know he’s not okay. So, they lie to him about what happened to the Mustang and claim it’s just in the shop for repairs. The main problem with that is that Cordell is insistent on driving Stella to Sauber in it like Emily always wanted. When Stella makes up another “problem” that the mechanic found with the car, he tells her to call Deon and let him know that “Come hell or high water, that car is in the driveway at 9 A.M. tomorrow.”

Side note: I love that Cordell and August are finally getting some bonding time and I think hitting the home gym was a great way to do that.

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With a new deadline in place, Stella and August are running out of options. They’re also running out of money to pay Deon to keep up the lie. Colton, not wanting to ruin his last day with Stella, offers to keep paying Deon out of his own money until it’s too late for Cordell to protest. August isn’t happy with that idea since the most likely outcome is him taking most of the heat for it while Stella is chilling in her new dorm room. Stella doesn’t like that idea either; she doesn’t want August to have to deal with it alone, so they need to come up with a more permanent solution. August suggests renting a look-a-like, which Colton shoots down since their dad would likely be able to tell the difference.

Luckily, Stella has another idea. She’s been checking social media for photos and hashtags and she managed to find Shannon and the car; she’s been using it for drag races and it’s gotten quite a bit of attention from car enthusiasts. Stella thinks they can go to the racetrack and steal the car back. Luckily, her Uncle Hoyt taught her a thing or two about hot-wiring cars.

Colton is wary about the idea but he doesn’t want to leave them alone on this, so off they go.

They get to the racetrack and everything is fine until Trey calls to see if Stella is available to receive a going away present. Stella vaguely tells him she’s not home yet, but the loudspeakers choose to announce her location at that exact moment. She asks him not to say anything to Cordell and quickly hangs up to watch Shannon’s next race. The last thing she needs is for her dad to worry about her.

Shannon has made more than a few modifications to the Mustang, which does not sit well with either of the siblings, but they have bigger issues to worry about. Mostly that they’re in a place where crowbars and fists appear to be the main way of settling disputes and they are very much out of their depth. August and Colton think that now would be a good time to let Cordell in on what’s happening but Stella shuts that down. Their dad has enough to handle with his captivity fresh on his mind; he doesn’t need car drama on top of it. They’ll get that car back, no matter what.

After the racing, Stella formulates a plan. August will distract Shannon’s cronies with conversation while she gets into the car and hotwires it. Then, the three of them will ride off into the sunset and Dad will be none the wiser. August isn’t too happy with the plan since he’ll be directly in the line of fire (again) but they don’t have a lot of other options.

While they wait for the right opportunity to strike, Colton gripes that this wasn’t exactly the perfect last date he had in mind, but it should still be fun. Stella asks what he’s talking about and Colton explains that she’s been sending him mixed signals all summer. She acts excited about going to Sauber but she still hasn’t registered for any classes and she hasn’t really been giving him a lot of time. Stella realizes that her worries over her father and her future have affected other areas of her life and she apologizes to him for that. She says she doesn’t want to break up, unless he does. Which, of course, he doesn’t. But the happy couple can’t celebrate for too long because they’re running out of time to steal the car.

August dons a disguise and manages to get “remembered” under a mistaken identity. Meanwhile, Colton and Stella sneak around to the car and try to get in. Stella’s keys don’t work but she knows how to get the door open and instructs Colton on how to break in. After checking their surroundings, they slide into the car and start hotwiring. Luckily for her, Colton learned a thing or two about “vehicular relocation” from his family too. In between their banter and quick love confessions, they do manage to get the car started, but not before Shannon notices something is up. They speed out of the car lineup and August rushes go join them, nearly getting run over in the process. For a short moment, it seems like they’re home free.

But apparently one of Shannon’s mods included a kill switch to prevent theft and they’re stopped mere moments before the finish line.

The kids get out of the car and are subject to a very pissed off Shannon and other car enthusiasts. Shannon recognizes Stella as the Ranger’s Daughter and snarkily asks if her Daddy’s going to come arrest her and her friends.

Stella isn’t deterred by the intimidation though and decides to go for the emotional approach in front of the whole crowd. She says that her family has been through a lot recently, especially her father, which is why she won’t be calling him to clean up this mess. But she’s not leaving without this car. Because after everything her dad has been through, the loss of Emily, Hoyt, and some of his own sanity, the one thing he’s been holding onto this summer is being able to drive her to college in this Mustang. This Mustang, that means so much to her, so much to her family, is going to be in her driveway tonight, no matter the cost. Because it doesn’t matter that no one ever bothered to ask her if she really wanted to go to college; she wants to give her dad one good thing and this is damn well going to be it.

This moving and emotional moment touches the heart of the car thieves and Shannon decides to hand over the keys (no charge for the mods) if Stella doesn’t get them arrested.

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And, with that anticlimactic end, we’re returned to the ranch.

Side note: I really, really wanted to see Stella race and earn her mother’s car back. I really wanted that. I thought we were getting that. It was such an obvious play. I would’ve preferred that over the sappy love stuff. But this is fine too. I guess.

Before we go into the final scenes of the episode, I want to touch on how Cordell has been handling his own trauma this episode:

Not very well.

Cordell’s typical method of dealing with his emotions is repression and deflection. He buries himself in work or dealing with other peoples’ problems to avoid dealing with his own. While this has either led him to find closure (with solving Emily’s murder) or avoid reopening old wounds (dealing with several concurrent crises to “forget” about the barn fire), it doesn’t work as well here. He has no work to lose himself in because he’s taking the recommended time off and everyone is currently dealing with the same crisis: his captivity. He can’t go to his mother; she’s read the article and she’s worried about him. He can’t go to his brother; Liam is dealing with his own trauma. He doesn’t want to unload on his kids; they’re not his therapists and Stella’s about to go off to college. He can’t talk to his partner; she’s worried that he’s off his rocker already. So he buries everything deep, plasters on a smile, and pretends like everything’s fine, a classic Fake It Until You Make It approach. Which is a fine and valid way of coping, except it requires everyone else to follow the same tactic or else it falls apart. This leads to other people either not revealing their true feelings and struggles (like Stella and August) or to getting their own feelings invalidated (like Cassie and Liam). It hurts everyone and helps no one.

Cordell learns this lesson the hard way when he confronts Stella and August about what happened to the Mustang. He tears into them for lying to him for months about where Emily’s car has been and he sits them down like toddlers in time out and tells them to stay there until he’s arrested “that woman” and her friends. Stella tries to stop him by telling him it’s fine. She and August are safe and they have the car back. No one got hurt and everything is fine. Do those lines sound familiar to anyone?

Side note: Is anyone else happy the kids are facing some measure of consequence for this? Because I am.

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Cordell isn’t having it. He just can’t understand why they lied to him. He thought they were past the points of keeping secrets. Then the kids point out that he's keeping his own secrets. They know that he’s not doing as fine as he pretends to be and even quote his own catchphrase back to him. They didn’t tell him the truth because they didn’t want to be the ones to pop the bubble and send him spiraling. They didn’t want him to get hurt again. The kidnappers already took a piece of him when he was in captivity; they didn’t want to lose the rest of him too.

Cordell is heartbroken by this reality check; he never wanted to make them feel this way. He always wants to be the person they can come to, no matter what. Stella then says she has something else to tell him and asks August for a little privacy. He does, but not before hugging his dad and telling him he loves him.

Father and daughter are left alone and he sits next to her. Before she can say anything, he guesses that this is about her not wanting to go to college. When she asks how he knew, he says he just got a general feeling from how she’s been acting recently. She asks if he’s mad and he says that he’s not; he just wants her to be happy. Going to college may have been a part of his and Emily’s goals for her but it’s her future to plan, not theirs. She admits that she’s not really sure what she wants to do if not college, but he doesn’t pressure her for an answer. Instead, he hugs her and allows himself a Single Manly Tear.

Later, he sits on the front porch of his house with the keys to the Mustang in his hands. Cassie drops by with leftovers from the celebration-that-wasn’t and he apologizes to her. She came to him with a serious concern earlier that day and he invalidated her feelings. He promises her that he’s going to take this seriously and, while he may not be okay right now, he’s going to keep working on it and he’ll be ready to be her partner again soon. She’s a lot more satisfied with that answer and tells him she’ll see him on Monday.

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All seems well but, later that night, a figment of his Marine self appears in the mirror behind him, echoing Sean’s words, leaving him shaken.

There were some smaller plots that I want to touch on before I get to the commentary section:

Seeing Dan and Colton on screen together made me happy. I was a little surprised to see Dan behind the bar but it’s nice to see them treating Geri like part of the family. These two have such a good relationship and seeing Dan get excited about Colton’s date plans and about his first ‘I love you’ was a nice break in all the angst. It was also good to see Denise the Boar returned to her rightful place on the wall of the Side Step.

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We didn’t get much of Trey in this episode but it’s nice to see that he’s still making time for his friends among his Hell Week training. Although I would’ve loved to see the Obstacle Course where much bragging and mistakes were made, I was happier to see him offering advice to Cassie and trying to offer advice to Stella. It was a nice touch having him be the one to let Cordell know what was going on with the kids. Cordell’s confidence in August’s terrible lying may be loud but Desert Speed Wars loudspeakers are louder.

Overall, I was very happy with this episode. I was a little nervous going in because of how Cordell’s trauma and suffering has been handled by the show and the Walker family before. I was surprised to see how gentle everyone was. It was a far cry from them shaming him for his (admittedly poor) coping mechanisms back in season 1. While the walking-on-eggshells approach caused its own problems, it did provide a chance to showcase how trauma affects not only the traumatized but those around them. I was impressed with how the writers handled this one and I can only hope this continues as the series goes on. I’m also glad this doesn’t seem to be relegated to one episode. I look forward to more healing.

I also liked Stella’s plotline this episode. As someone who graduated from high school just a few years ago myself, I remember the push to get into college from my parents, my teachers, and honestly the whole world at times. It’s ridiculous how much the dream of going to college, getting a degree, and getting a “good job” is pushed onto kids even before they get to high school. I’m proud of Stella for sticking up for herself and saying that’s not the path for her, at least not right now. It may have come a bit late but I can understand why she kept quiet about it.

My only real issue with this episode was the anticlimactic end to the Mustang plot. I was expecting a drag race and I’m a little annoyed that the car was just…handed over. I understand there was only so much time but still. I feel a little misled.

I think it was a very solid episode overall. It told the story it wanted to tell and also provided plenty of threads for future episodes. How will Cordell and Liam cope with their trauma? Will they ever be able to talk to each other about what happened? How will Trey settle into becoming a ranger? What are Stella’s plans for the future? Will August be buff enough for the first day of school? All questions for the future.

So, what did y’all think? Did you like the episode as much as I did? Were you also expecting a more dynamic plotline for getting the Mustang back? Do you think Stella weaponized her tears well enough to excuse the anticlimactic ending? What did you think of how this episode addressed mental health? Let me know in the comments! I’m curious to read your thoughts!

Catch up on Esther's detailed Walker Recaps and insightful Character Profiles, all found on Esther's Writer's Page

Read more Walker and Walker:Independence reviews, plus find news on the cast and show on The WFB's Walker and Walker: Independence Pages