Who is Walker, Texas Ranger? In the ’90s, that question had an easy answer. Chuck Norris’ karate-kicking, drug-discouraging, cowboy-hat-wearing version of the character was like a daydream created by conservative white America to maintain its values. He was a badass who carried a huge gun who also did community service. He didn’t like men with pierced ears! He operated without jurisdiction in Mexico! But every step out of line he took (and every guy he punched) served the greater purpose of law and order, and during the eight seasons of the show and the TV movie Walker, Texas Ranger: Trial by Fire, well, he sure punched a lot of guys.
But at least that Walker had a personality! One hour into The CW’s reboot of the show, which has dropped “Texas Ranger” from the name and incorporated numerous other members of the Walker family into its narrative, Jared Padalecki’s Cordell Walker is still a curiously blank void. Walker has updated this character for our times—he’s not casually making gender- or race-based jokes anymore, which hey, I appreciate!—but it hasn’t really replaced those qualities with anything else. Walker is Anguished, and Walker is Committed to the Job, and that’s about it. What is Walker like? His interests? His passions? His disappointments? Anything about his life that isn’t related to his career, or to his dead wife? We have no idea. I suppose that gives Walker room to grow in upcoming episodes, but for now, he’s a Raylan Givens facsimile with extremely sanded-down edges.
Walker’s pilot is most committed to hyping up the legend of Walker, Texas Ranger—excuse me, just Walker, as he requests—and the opening moments make that clear. As he did in the preceding series, this Walker drives a big ol’ truck (red, naturally), and he dons an omnipresent cowboy hat (both official issue or otherwise), and he wears a couple of gun belts with fancy shiny buckles, and as he confirms to his loving wife Emily (Genevieve Padalecki, Jared’s real-life wife), he always gets his guy. They’re all flirty banter and lingering kisses before Emily goes off on the “approved route” Walker set for her, and if you needed more evidence that this Walker is a more tolerant version than his predecessor, you’ll find it in the realization that Emily is off to leave water and food in the desert for migrants. Her voicemail greeting of “I’m probably out trying to save the world or something” is doing a lot of work to confirm for us that Emily was an amazing person, but that is admittedly a very good thing to do! So when Emily is chased down, shot through the abdomen, and left to die, was it because of her activism? Or was it something else?
Cut to Walker dropping to his knees in slow motion in an anguished scream—I hope every episode of this show has at least one moment as melodramatic as this one—and then… cut to 10 months later? The greatest flaw of this pilot episode might be in how rushed everything feels, and this time jump doesn’t help things. We don’t see Walker finding Emily’s body, or grieving her, or attending her funeral, or spending time with their two teen kids, August (Kale Culley) and Stella (Violet Brinson). Instead, Walker is drunk outside a gazebo, imagining his dead wife, and it’s somehow 10 months later, and Walker was working undercover outside of Texas all this time, and he spills these admissions to Officer Micki Ramirez (Lindsey Morgan) while she drives him home. Little does he know that the next day when he reports for work, she’ll be his new Ranger partner. And also little does he know that his children have struggled in his absence, in particular the rebellious Stella, who gets arrested for possession the first day that Walker is back on the job. Am I a jerk for laughing when Walker sarcastically says this altercation is more embarrassing for him than it is for her? I guess so!
It’s curious how little we know about Walker after this first hour because everyone else gets a ton of screen time. Walker’s parents, Bonham (Mitch Pileggi! Skinner!) and Abeline (Molly Hagan) live in a gorgeous, sprawling rancher on their horse farm outside Austin; I particularly coveted their exposed wall of white brick in the foyer. Are we going to pretend the Walkers aren’t wealthy? They are clearly doing pretty damn well! Also introduced is Walker’s younger brother Liam (Keegan Allen), an assistant district attorney whose homosexuality is mentioned in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, and Walker’s former partner-turned-captain, Larry James (Coby Bell), who tells Walker he’s not going to put up with his rough handling of suspects. (LOL, OK; I’m sure the show will stick that.)
The most developed characteris Walker’s partner Micki. She’s Mexican American, and burned bridges with her family for serving in the military, than becoming a police officer, and finally becoming a Texas Ranger. (I mean, are her parents really wrong in being disappointed that their daughter is defending American imperialism in any way she can? That’s arguable!) And she seems to have absorbed a fair amount of the qualities of Old-Walker that this reboot didn’t give New-Walker. During the episode’s bust, she’s the one who kicks the gun out of the baddie’s hand and then chases her down and tackles her to make the arrest. She’s the one clearly hoping to get invited onto the special task force that wants Walker. And she demands loyalty from Walker: “I’ve got your back, that’s my job. I need to know that you have mine,” she tells him, and I’m assuming that at some point in a subsequent episode Walker does betray her or cut her out of a situation, because this is totally the type of show that will blow up the trust between them so that it can be built back stronger and better.
Will that moment when the two stop saying “respect” to each other come when Walker begins investigating his wife’s death? Probably. I thought it was strange how clearly over Emily’s death Walker’s parents and brother were, until the show filled in—a couple scenes later than necessary—that someone had confessed to her killing. But if there weren’t loose threads for Walker to pull on, we wouldn’t have a show! Someone closed Emily’s eyes. Someone left a poker chip on her body. Someone seemingly knew where she would be, and was able to chase and then kill her. What did the drug mule who taunted Walker know? Walker and Emily only shared one scene together, and we never saw her interact with her children, so I’m hoping we get some flashbacks to better fill in who Emily was. “What did I miss?” Walker wonders, but the real question is whether Walker is going to develop its main character enough for us to care.
- This show is trying to take on the cartel, and the plight of undocumented people, and the casual racism of good ol’ boys like Walker’s dad? Best of luck. Here’s hoping the Walker writers’ room has at least one, if not more, Latin American and POC voices who can speak to these issues.
- I am legitimately intrigued by Walker not being religious at all—he disapproves of his parents putting his kids in Catholic school, and he is pretty scoffing toward that plaster cross. Did he lose his faith after his wife’s murder? Or is his atheism more deep-seated than that? I think the “cop who has seen too much” angle is pretty familiar for this genre, but I wonder what spin Walker will put on it.
- Way too many background songs used throughout the show, which was probably a choice of both director Jessica Yu and show creator Anna Fricke, who also scripted this premiere episode. You can let people have a conversation without some plaintive guitar and lyrics about coal mines accompanying the dialogue, you know! But two women in charge of a show that used to be the patriarchal masculine ideal? That’s good and fine.
- When Walker said of Emily’s panicked phone call to him in her dying moments that it was “just work stuff,” was that genuine—was Emily somehow involved in one of Walker’s cases?
- Emily’s ghost outfit—floral spaghetti-strap dress, white cardigan, cowboy boots—had some real Instagram influencer vibes.
- Not gonna lie, I want to know more about Walker’s last case investigating the “Rodeo kings.” Sounds like this should be a Point Break sequel!
- Of course Walker signed up for the Marines after Sept. 11, and of course the show treats that like it’s an admirable thing. Of course.
- The Texas Rangers’ belt buckles being hand crafted by the Department of Corrections (yes, prison labor) is in fact a thing. How much do you think they’re getting paid for this work? Probably not enough.
- Also: The show’s very first villains had to be the people running a place that provides job opportunities to rehabilitating criminals? That’s a real throwback to the original show’s “Do bad people really deserve second chances?” messaging.
- What’s the deal with Geri (Odette Annable)? She was with Emily the night she died, and she certainly seems to have some sexual tension with Walker. Is there history we don’t know about yet?
- “I am realizing how stupid you are, and it’s making me very depressed about my prospects as a Texas Ranger” was the episode’s best line. I’m not entirely sold on Micki as a character yet, but Morgan is pretty amusing.