An episode like “Bobble Head” really encapsulates all the ups and downs of this new version of Walker. Good things that demonstrate how much the show is working to distance itself from the original: Obviously, the male stripper covered in gold body glitter, because it’s been six years since Magic Mike XXL and we deserve this; some more attention paid to supporting characters like Geri and Bret, who each get slightly additional development this episode; and a realistically down-to-earth approach to teens acting out that ended in tough-but-fair love rather than, say, a sternly self-serious D.A.R.E. message. But what is still failing to click here is Walker himself, and the show continues to struggle in balancing all the disparate elements they’ve added onto the character outside of his professional persona.
We get less Emily grief this episode, which is fine, because this is obviously a season-long mystery and Walker doesn’t need to frontload the storyline. But “Bobble Head” doesn’t fill in that space with, say, scenes that better explain the bond between Walker and childhood friend-turned-charming criminal Hoyt Rawlins (played by guest starr Matt Barr), or that further clarify Walker’s history of crossing the line between his personal life and his professional life, or that show us more of the uneasy peace found between Walker and his daughter Stella. The episode—and the series overall, really—seem terrified of letting scenes breathe, or letting relationships unfurl. Walker remains summarily bland. Micki remains good at her job, but so narrow in her understanding of right vs. wrong that she’s not particularly interesting this episode, either. And when all is said and done, we both meet the glittery gold stripper and ship him away to prison in the same episode, and let me speak for all thirsty people when I say: How dare you.
A week or so has passed since the events of “Back In The Saddle,” which ended with Walker and Stella reaching a kind of détente after all their fighting about Walker’s behavior and absence since Emily died. Stella’s court date is coming up for her marijuana possession arrest, and Walker is wary of rocking the boat on this new peace. But Micki, as is increasingly her custom, is there to tell Walker he’s just not cutting it. Rather than indulging him in basic getting-to-know-you small talk as they stake out a strip club where gun runner Torreto (yes, I too thought of “I live my life a quarter-mile at a time” Dominic whenever someone said the villainess’s name this episode) is hanging out, Rodriguez dives into the serious stuff. No “Michelle Rochelle” goofiness here! Instead, Micki says, Walker should have a real talking-to with Stella, and should show her some tough love. It’ll be good for her in the long run, Micki says, but Walker isn’t ready to hear it.
While the partners do their already-established arguing-banter thing, Torreto is inside the strip club getting a bump and grind from a very fit blonde cowboy who has an entire Michaels worth of gold glitter all over his torso and can move those hips just fine. His sparkly blue briefs and leather chaps saunter over to Torreto to let her know that the rangers are watching outside, but when he helps her flee the club by stealing Micki’s truck and ferrying them away, he leaves a clue. Before getting into Micki’s new ride, he does a high kick and accompanying dance move, caught on security video—cluing Walker into the fact that the “naked stripper” whose face the camera never captures is childhood best friend, Hoyt Rawlins, who has now revealed himself to be Torreto’s gun-running accomplice.
Does Hoyt have that kind of drawling, smirking, too-smart-for-his-own-good charm that every blonde actor has been copying since Brad Pitt in Thelma & Louise? Yes. I say with no shame that it worked for me, and it also works for most of the Walker family, who invite Hoyt over for dinner. Grandma Abeline is a big fan; she helped raise the wayward Hoyt, he calls her Abby Bear, and they have a tradition of going mushroom hunting together. (Do Texans actually do this? I need answers!) Stella and Augie also find him absurdly amusing, with Stella drawing on his years of operating outside of the law to ask him for advice on her upcoming court date. And even though Walker, who at this point already suspects Hoyt of being in cahoots with Torreto, should know better, he’s glad to see Hoyt, too.
The problem: Walker doesn’t really give us enough of a backstory between these two to sell a bond so deep that it’s inspired Walker to look away from Hoyt’s criminality all these years. Over its first three episodes, Walker has established a storytelling pattern in which it drops viewers into situations or introduces us to characters with opaque scenes that initially don’t make much sense until the episode fills in relevant details later through clunkily delivered exposition, and the same goes here. We learn that the whole Walker family knows Hoyt is bad news, but also that that Hoyt once saved Walker; do those things even each other out? Is that why Walker has been so willing to turn a blind eye all this time? Maybe. Walker doesn’t do enough to fully invest us in what happens either way.
Hoyt’s presence in town provides Walker with memories of the past that aren’t exclusively painful: Sure, he had lost Emily’s cherry-red convertible to Hoyt in a game of cards years before, but on the same day, he learned that Emily was pregnant with Stella. Hoyt has kept the car all this time, and it’s a reminder of the joy and love Emily and Walker used to share. But Hoyt’s return isn’t so pleasant for Side Step bartender Geri, the ex-girlfriend who he’s burned a few too many times, or for Micki, who wants revenge for him stealing he truck. So she gets Hoyt to give up Torreto, and when Hoyt double crosses her, Walker finally steps up and shares where he thinks Hoyt will be. Remember all that stuff Micki said about “tough love”? Walker uses that lesson to bust Hoyt for real this time, finally letting go of the “blind spot for faces from the past” that Bonham had described. Hoyt is arrested after a shootout set to Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk,” and as he’s carted off, Micki says to Walker, “He’s better off where he’s going. It’s not easy, but it’s the right thing to do.”
Morally? Sure, I guess, if you think property crime is really a big deal. (… Arguable.) But in terms of storytelling, I have no understanding of why Walker introduces and then removes Hoyt from this series so quickly. Hoyt’s presence could have served some purpose here. Why not have him stick around, and use him to draw out the darker aspects of Walker? The first few episodes have alluded, over and over, to Walker’s unique set of rules and how he has his “own way” of doing things. Could that have something to do with Hoyt? Why not explore their friendship, and what caused Hoyt to go one way, and Walker the other? I’m not saying anyone can recreate the Raylan Givens/Boyd Crowder dynamic of Justified, because it was perfect and untouchable and I am not sacrilegious enough to suggest it could ever be recreated. But there’s a reason shows have heroes and antiheroes. Walker is burning through story too fast, and getting rid of Hoyt with the quickness feels like a miscalculation. And how the Walker family (save for the distraught Abeline) reacts to his arrest with a sort of collective shrug and “Well, guess it’s time to move on” vibe demonstrates again this show’s uneven sense of stakes. Wouldn’t they care more? Wouldn’t Walker himself care more, and be more torn up about his decision after a lifetime of covering for this guy? Where’s the interiority?
The CW announced on February 3 that Walker received not only a second-season renewal, but also an order for five additional episodes for this first season, bringing the total up to 18. Walker as a character isn’t going to stay so bland the whole time, is he? Can they call up Barr and get Hoyt back for the home stretch, please? Bring the glitter.
- I appreciate any Fleetwood Mac I can get, but no use of “Tusk” is ever going to be better than how The Americans used it in the series pilot, and those are just the facts.
- Any other vintage WB/CW fans recognize Matt Barr as Psycho Derek, Payton’s stalker and kidnapper from One Tree Hill? I will not apologize for the endless OTH knowledge that is still rattling around my brain all these years later!
- The show is really exacerbating the distance between Abeline and Bonham, and using some of the cheesiest dialogue to do so: “Don’t you have a horse to ride or something?” is not an impressive clapback! And I’m curious what the endgame is here. I have a fear that Bonham is going to die, and the loss of him will draw Walker tighter into the family dynamic, and that is not OK! Protect Skinner at all costs!
- “No one benefits from the easy route.” … Micki. You know with your whole heart this isn’t true.
- In honor of Augie’s absolutely terrible David Attenborough impression, what’s your favorite nature documentary? I vote Blue Planet II.
- “You’ve always been Meryl Streep when it comes to waterworks,” which Hoyt says to Stella, is this week’s example of “No, I do not think this dialogue works in this universe,” following up on Micki’s use of “woman of color” last week. Meryl doesn’t even cry that much in movies, does she?
- Julia Rubin wrote a piece for Vox in 2016 about how everyone on TV has the same hair—“the same straight-up-top, loose-curls-on-bottom hair”—and that’s all I could think about when Micki drops off that red plastic ring for Geri after taking Hoyt in. Each woman’s hair was so lustrous and voluminous and wavy, and no, that doesn’t happen in real life.
- For the briefest second, I really hoped that the stripper was being played by MMA fighter Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, and I still regret that he was not.