By Samantha Highfill
January 28, 2021 at 10:09 PM EST

So far, I'd say Walker is striking about a 70-30 balance when it comes to family life versus his work as a Ranger. Sure, this week saw Walker help Micki out with a barn fire — and at least attempt to retake his boards so he could get re-certified — but the show is proving to be much more about Walker's journey as a son, as a brother, and as a dad. And that's a good thing. As fun as it is to watch Walker and Micki take down some bad guys on horseback — and it is fun — this show will live and die by whether fans become invested in the character relationships. And this week proved to be a big one for some of Walker's closest relationships.

Walker starts the hour set on fixing up the home he and Emily shared and getting the kids back there, despite the farmhouse set-up his mother arranged. Right now, his focus is on getting back to "normal," whatever that means. But seeing as how his kids have a new breakfast routine that includes Uncle Liam and Walker can't even locate his favorite mug, things aren't going well.

Micki — who's still coping with balancing her important new job and having Trey around — is left to work the barn fire case on her own after Walker can't finish the horseback portion of his certification test. Seeing the saddle that Emily gave him sends him straight to the bar to talk with Geri.

But the conversation proves fruitful. Right now, Walker has two major questions about Emily's death: Why were her eyes closed? And why did she have a poker chip on her when she died? Well, Geri answers one of those questions. She admits to closing Emily's eyes because she says she "couldn't leave her like that." The answer to the second question will come later.

Despite the fact that he's not allowed to help on the case, Walker does just that, and he and Micki quickly figure out that it was an inside job. Texas Nightshade, the star racehorse, is not dead but is injured, so his owners staged the fire to collect the insurance. And that leads us to our seriously badass Walker-Micki moment on horseback. (Yes, they get the bad guy.)

But while all of that is going on, Walker misses his lunch with Liam. Thankfully, Liam has a supportive boyfriend who's all about shared calendars, so Brett shows up to finish out lunch and talk about how badly he wants to move to New York before the queso here kills him. (Not a bad way to go if you ask me.) It's a short but sweet introduction to the character.

Credit: Rebecca Brenneman/The CW

After Walker's impressive riding skills, his Captain signs his papers to re-certify him, but the celebration doesn't last long: Liam shows up and lets Walker know Stella missed her soccer game. And he knows exactly where she is.

Walker and Micki arrive at Walker's old house to find a party, and while Micki breaks it up, Stella lets her father know that he doesn't get a second chance when he wasn't there the first time around. And when she drops a line about how she wishes Liam had gotten custody of them when he tried, a pissed off Walker pays his little brother a visit.

Walker and Liam wrestle a bit, and Liam admits he tried for custody when they didn't hear from Walker for three months, and their parents agreed with his decision. But Liam would never take Walker's kids; he simply wanted them to be with family. Again, Liam begs his brother to drop the Emily mystery, telling him, "You will lose everything if you don't stop searching for something that's not there."

That's when Walker sees August watching. He sits down with his son, who gives him the Father's Day present Emily had bought for him before she died. It's a poker set. It seems she carried a couple of the chips around to show people. And with his second big question answered, he tries to make things right with Stella.

Thanks to a text conversation — gotta get on a teenager's level, you know? — Walker is able to connect with Stella, and together, they head to their old house to dig up the stone that contains August and Stella's handprints from when they were little. But when Stella accidentally breaks the stone, she starts crying, giving Walker the chance to finally comfort his little girl.

Together, they return the stone to the farmhouse, where Walker's dad gifts him a new saddle, because sometimes getting back to normal means starting fresh. Inside, Walker watches August's school project — a video on what Texas means to him — with Stella, and the three of them sit there watching old family videos of Emily.

It might not sound like much, but it's a big step forward for Walker in terms of connecting with his kids, and at the very least, he's decided where they're going to sleep.

Across town, Micki also has some life news when Trey tells her he's not going to re-up. He's home now, and together, they're going to try to get this right.

Two episodes in, and I'm still interested to see how things will work moving forward with the balance of smaller cases and the larger mystery — that seems solved right now — but I'm certainly invested in these characters, and that's the foundation of any story.

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