Everyone handles trauma differently. Walker's episode "Rubber Meets the Road" takes the unusual and bold choice to explore that through its beloved characters as part of the CW’s #DareToLoveDefyHate initiative to explore issues surrounding mental health. It fit perfectly in with the Walker season after the traumatic events of the first two episodes. "Rubber Meets the Road" is a painfully real look at how people try to cope, many times unhealthily, and how the pain of trauma can ripple outward, starting at the heart with …
Being tortured is enough to traumatize anyone, and he responds by pushing it down and burying it under toxic positivity. Jared Padalecki is perfection at being someone who is very much not okay trying to convince everyone, including himself, he’s okay. “Squared Away” is the mantra he repeats to himself and anyone who asks. Everyone knows differently, but let him pretend - which is a far cry from the “intervention” they did to him after Emily’s death. His “what am I walking into” with Geri was heartbreaking. He also shows that going to therapy only works as much as one lets it. Because, though it is mandated by the rangers, it’s clear he’s still pretending. Little things like water leaks and tooth brushing trigger him, and bring back the horrors he faced and the shame he feels for not handling as well as he feels he should. But the biggest red flag is his inability to talk about what happened with …
Unlike Cordell, Liam very much wants to talk about what happened. Keegan’s portrayal of his pain is masterful, adding just the right hint of little brother petulance, which is fitting because he only wants to talk to his brother. He’s actually fixated on it, thinking everything will be better once he can. And though he is right that the conversation does need to be started, him waiting on healing from his brother ends up hurting him. Liam lashes out at his mom, and feels regret, but it alerts her to his pain that she hadn’t addressed as of yet. So she sends Bonham, who has faced similar pain in his past. He, in his grumpily stoic way, gets Liam to see he needs to get help instead of waiting on Cordell who is not ready. However, someone who couldn’t wait until Cordell decides he is ready is …
Though she wasn’t captured herself, losing another partner and reading about what happened to Cordell scared her, especially with Cordell suppressing how not okay he is. After talking to Trey who supported her right to be concerned, she confronts Walker. She starts the conversation that the way he’s handling his trauma is affecting those around him. Later, when he admits he’s trying, that’s enough for her. Ashley’s ability to be dramatic and funny serve the story well as Cassie must deal out the hard truths. But, the ones who really show Cordell that his suffering is affecting others are …
Stella and August
What they lack in intelligence and decision making skills, they make up for in love and devotion. Their intense desire not to be what breaks their dad leads them to make some bad decisions and put themselves in danger. Luckily, the power of stubbornness and oversharing gets them their car back. But thanks to Trey’s observational skills, Cordell knows and they finally have the conversations they needed to have - that the kids are worried for their dad, and Stella doesn’t want to leave for college. The hugs and tears are cathartic not only for them, but for the audience as well.
Beyond the wonderful performances as the characters navigate trauma in a different way, this episode excelles at physical analogies to mental health. Liam mentioning that injuries can be internal, where they can’t be seen. The Supernatural Easter Egg of the bandanna around an injured hand, like Sam’s injured hand when he was suffering mentally, and how make shift bandages aren’t enough to heal or protect one’s hurts. And even the shaking under the strain of one’s own exertion while offering help to others.
A few more wonderful things about this episode are Geri being there for them, Cordell especially. Trey gets his hat! And finally, Denise is back in her rightful place. These are wonderful breaks from the heaviness of the episode.
This episode is a beautiful, educational, and multi-layered study of trauma, without feeling pedantic or boring. The audience cares for these people, so watching them struggle to heal is both heartbreaking and moving.
4.95 out of 5.
Photos Courtesy of The CW. Screencaps by Raloria on LJ
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