Wednesday, February 8, 2023

‘Walker’: How Season 3 is Putting a Focus on Mental Health

TELEVISION'Walker': How Season 3 is Putting a Focus on Mental Health

In the first episode of a new Friday Night Lights podcast, It’s Not Only Football: Friday Night Lights and Beyond, hosted by Zach Gilford, Scott Porter, and Mae Whitman, Whitman talked about how Friday Night Lights and Parenthood were shows where “The big things are just life. And it’s just family. Those things are huge, and if you portray them the right way, people kind of really connect to them.”

That sentiment by Whitman made me think of The CW’s Walker. Now in its third season, the show really puts a focus on family and friendships and those relationships. While it does have its mysteries and its share of explosions, at its core is a story about a family. A father, a mother who passed, teenagers, grandparents, an uncle, friends, and love; all things that people can connect to.

In this season, in particular, mental health has been a strong focus in the storyline. When Cordell (Jared Padalecki) and Liam (Keegan Allen) are kidnapped, their mental health, when they return — as well as those around them — drive the story. Honestly, it’s so refreshing to see that proper conversations about mental health are being had. In a lot of television shows, there are big events or things that happen, and the characters are often glossed over, or they will be focused on for a scene and then never referenced again. However, with Walker, the repercussions of the kidnapping are lingering as the characters are working through their trauma from episode to episode.

Rebecca Brenneman/The CW
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Cordell and Liam are having two very different reactions to their abduction; Cordell is burying it and trying to have everyone think he’s fine, while Liam is more open and wants to talk about it, which is making the two clash when all Liam wants to do is share his feelings with Cordell. Bonham (Mitch Pileggi) even shares his thoughts with Liam and recommends Equine Therapy, which carries on into subsequent episodes where Liam finds his own therapist and later even talks about opening his own place where people can come after Cordell brings him horses from a case. We also get to see Cordell’s side, how he’s also trying to sort through in his own ways while very much not being okay. He slowly starts to open up a little to Liam and Bonham but still tries to maintain the fact he’s fine (he’s not).

What I specifically love about how Walker is tackling mental health is they’re not only focusing on the main characters and how it affected them. In this season, we see how it affects the other Walkers; Abeline, who is usually very strong-willed, has cracks in her facade about losing her boys; Bonham, who worries but also tries to hold together his family; and Stella and Augie, who are working through their Dad being gone again, and then what happens when he returns. They also show how it’s affecting Geri, who tells Augie she’s not okay, as well as Cordell’s co-workers, such as Cassie and Larry, who express worry about trusting Cordell once he returns. Everything that has been building this scene has been about the dynamic of the family and the aftermath of the kidnapping and what that means, not only with the case but also with how the characters deal with it. This kind of storytelling is so brave, and so many people can connect to their struggles.

Rebecca Brenneman/The CW

Jared Padalecki is also a strong champion of mental health awareness, as he founded the Always Keep Fighting movement, which brings awareness about mental health, depression, and anxiety. As I shared in an article a few years ago about Padalecki’s AKF and how it inspired an entire fandom, in 2015, Padalecki opened up about his experiences with depression to Variety. He launched a t-shirt campaign through Represent to benefit To Write Love on Her Arms — a charity that is best known to help people with suicidal thoughts, mental health, depression, and anxiety.

Since its original launch in 2015, Always Keep Fighting has had a few relaunches and new designs while maintaining the same message. Hundreds of thousands of pieces were sold, with all proceeds continuing to go to charity. Fans were opening up the conversation about their mental health and sharing stories about their personal struggles. The movement is still used today to help people through their hard times. Fans have found others who shared similar stories and really bonded together. So, in a fandom of people who found others and their strength in the AKF movement, it’s even more important that they’re seeing Padalecki, the writers, and the cast explore the characters’ trauma on Walker.

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Walker has always had such a unique way of telling stories and making people feel seen in their characters, and this is no exception. Their characters are raw and real, they have their own battles, and they make mistakes, but that’s what makes them human. And, in my opinion, telling stories like this is why Walker is one of the best shows on television in recent years.

Walker airs on The CW on Thursdays. You can also catch the prequel to Walker, Walker: Independence, right after Walker. Both shows are available to stream on The CW app and will return in the new year after the midseason break.

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