Thursday, March 5, 2015

Going "Undercover" (Walker, Texas Ranger: Season 6, Episode 18)

I've been toying with the idea of starting a third (that's right, third) blog sometime in the near future. It would be another TV retrospect, this time about the glorious cheese-fest that is the 1990's action/drama/Western series I grew up loving: Walker, Texas Ranger. A wintry storm nicknamed Thor has me currently unable to leave my house with no less than 3 channels that air Walker reruns. What better way to test this concept than with a DVR recording of one of my favorite episodes? So without any further delay, I give you "Undercover."

Open with a shot of a neon sign that reads SPY THE ULTIMATE NIGHTCLUB. Carlos, a good-looking Hispanic man with long black hair, gets out of a red Dodge Viper convertible and goes into the building. He makes his way across the crowded dance floor. He must be a regular because various women shout greetings at him. He stops for a drink at the bar. A redheaded waitress named Nicole accosts him about not calling her. Carlos promises he will, kisses her, and excuses himself. He goes upstairs and a security guard opens a door for him.

In a private VIP room, three other Hispanic men are sitting around a table and point their guns at him. "Is this a bad time?" asks Carlos. The oldest of the three assures him that there's no such thing between friends and comes over to hug Carlos. Johnny reminds him about not calling Nicole. Carlos hands over an envelope full of money. Some bouncers drag in a nervous young black man named Ricky. Johnny asks where he's been. "I-I-I been around," Ricky stammers. Johnny punches him hard in the face. Ricky insists that he "didn't do nothin'."

Carlos looks uneasy and stands up to leave. Johnny tells him to stay. He lectures Ricky about the importance of trust in the narcotics trade: "Any one of us can destroy the other. And if we steal from each other, well, then there is no other recourse." Ricky promises to pay him back, but it's too late for that. Johnny shoots Ricky, who falls onto some conveniently placed plastic sheeting. Carlos drops his eyes. Nobody down in the club seems to have heard the gunshot over the pounding music. The bouncers wrap Ricky's body in the plastic and leave.

"Trust, it's essential to our operation," Johnny repeats to Carlos. I think he definitely gets it now, dude. "This is what happens when trust is broken." He adds, "And call that Nicole, she's a good girl." Johnny winks. Carlos says he will.

Carlos drives to what looks like an abandoned warehouse with Johnny's words about trust echoing in his head. He takes the freight elevator and we see that at least part of the building has been converted into probably illegal loft housing. Carlos takes a beer out of his mini-fridge and holds it against his forehead. I hear Tylenol works just as well. He freezes when he hears the whirr of the elevator machinery, closes the mini-fridge, and grabs his gun. Carlos heads in the direction he just came from and hides around a corner. The elevator door opens. Carlos pops out "Don't move!" A look of realization crosses his face and he lowers the gun. "Walker." We then see the Beard of Justice himself.

Cue the DIY theme song that is simultaneously one of the best and worst things about the show.

Carlos shows Walker and Trivette a classic cop movie posterboard depicting the hierarchy of the Vaqueros drug cartel, complete with a question mark in place of a photo of cartel boss El Vaquero. Walker thinks they should go ahead with the bust. Carlos disagrees because he's been on the case for 4 months. "You've been undercover too long," Walker tells him. Good Lord, Billy Queen was under with the Mongols for years. Carlos wants more time; he knows he can get El Vaquero. Trivette says they have enough evidence to bury the Vaqueros, but Carlos points out that the big boss could easily put together a new crew.

Carlos waits anxiously for the Beard of Justice to respond. Walker agrees to give him one more week, but that's it. The narcotics task force will take over. Carlos's eyes harden: "When the time comes, El Vaquero's mine." We get the sense there are Very Personal Stakes, a common theme in this show. Trivette leaves to take the drugs Carlos bought to the crime lab. Walker tells Carlos not to take his job personally. Carlos plays dumb, asking what Walker means. "I know about your brother," says Walker, "I know about Hector."

Black-and-white flashback time! A much-younger Carlos is walking down a street with his older brother, who screams at him, "I said go! What you always hangin' around me for, anyways? Stupid little jerk. Go on, get outta here!" Carlos isn't more than a few steps away when he hears Hector begging someone not to do something and a loud pop. Young Carlos runs back to find Hector flat on the sidewalk, bleeding from two holes in his chest. "Somebody help!" Young Carlos shouts. This statement echoes once and we're back in the present.

Hector, it transpires, was a junkie and shot by a drug dealer. "The day he died, it nearly killed my mother," says Carlos before swearing not to lose his objectivity. Yeah, I buy that. Walker seems convinced and pats him on the shoulder.

Thunder Karate. Blond-haired, blue-eyed Trent Malloy is supervising two students sparring each other. When the match is finished, he calls for the next pair: his teenage brother Tommy and another teenage black belt (Espinoza, according to the back of his gi). It should be noted that this is Karate Kid style bare-knuckle sparring. Both boys throw a series of wild, fancy kicks that don't come close to connecting. "Show me you can use your heads," says Trent. Tommy sweeps the leg, goes to the ground, and drops a heel kick on Espinoza. Trent ends the match and tells everyone to line up.

For Chuck Norris being so heavily involved, they didn't do a great job with one detail. What appear to be orange belts are standing in the front row next to the black belts. I took karate for about 8 years and that would never happen. Lower ranks are always in the back of the room. Anyway, the Thunder Karate students are set to compete in a tournament that weekend. Trent gives a winning-isn't-everything speech; if you learn from a loss, you haven't really lost. Someone whistles and applauds.

Speaking of The Karate Kid, we're about to meet Dallas's answer to Cobra Kai's Sensei Kreese: Jake Lyons of the Jake Lyons Karate Academy. He walks onto the dojo floor in street clothes and shoes, soundly mocking Trent. "I thought I'd drop by and give your students the opportunity to study under a real martial arts instructor," says Lyons. He turns to the class and loudly offers a month of free lessons at Jake Lyons Karate Academy. Nobody looks tempted. Lyons tries to persuade them by changing it to 6 months. "Don't you wanna learn how to fight?" Lyons asks Tommy, "That's right, you got a big brother for that."

Jake makes a final offer: a full year of free lessons. Walker, coming in with his gym bag, catches the tail end of this. "That'd be quite a bargain...if they were worth anything," he jabs. Lyons tells him that they'll see what they're worth at the tournament. Trent tells the class he's proud of them for showing restraint. Tommy bows them out and Trent dismisses them. Once the kids are gone, he tells Walker how frustrated he is. Walker offers to work the frustration out of him.

A shirtless Walker and shirtless Trent do a bit of shameless product placement by working out on a Total Gym, a piece of equipment Chuck shilled on late-night infomercials. They practice kicks and punches, then put their gi tops on again to work on their ground technique. Trent nearly defeats the Beard of Justice, but finds himself on the mat tapping out. Now he's even more frustrated with himself. Beard of Justice explains, "When you thought you almost had me, you got overconfident. Then I had you."

Later, Trent and Carlos go for a ride in the Viper. Trent asks how his best friend likes being a detective. Carlos tells him that going undercover to bust a drug ring is like a dream come true; working with Walker is "a little intimidating, the guy knows everything." Walker was a big influence on Trent because he used to get in trouble "rebelling against anything and everything." He doesn't know where he'd be if not for Walker's karate lessons. Sidebar: Nothing you learn about Trent in the other episodes featuring his character will give you that impression; he's the squeaky-clean preacher's kid.

Trent notices a scuffle in an alley and asks Carlos to pull over. A big redneck is pushing around a skinny homeless man, accusing him of stealing his car radio. "I may be homeless, but I ain't no thief," the man protests. The redneck goes to swing again, but Trent catches the punch. Redneck fights Trent while his pal fights Carlos. Carlos takes a few hits to the face and more than a few punishing body blows. Trent watches instead of, I don't know, trying to help his lifelong best friend? Carlos manages to knock down Redneck's Friend. He gives Fat Redneck a swift, literal kick in the ass, ordering, "Get outta here!" Fat Redneck and Friend hurry to drive away.

The skinny homeless man thanks them and introduces himself as Charlie Clark. "There's not a whole lot of folks who'd stand up for...someone like me," says Charlie. "If--If I can return the favor, I will." Carlos tells him not to worry about it. Trent hands him some money and says, "Take care of yourself, okay?"

Carlos inspects the damage to his face in the Viper's side mirror. Trent quips, "Your chin really gave that guy's knuckles a pounding." They get back in the car. Trent thinks it's time Carlos started taking martial arts beyond what he learned at the police academy. They can start right away. Carlos gives him the same look I used to give my mom when she mentioned karate: 'Really? That again?'

At Thunder Karate, Carlos has been outfitted in a brand-new gi and white belt. "I can take care of myself just with boxing," he says. In response, Trent delivers a wicked spinning kick, hitting Carlos in the stomach. Carlos doubles over with a groan. "All right, you made your point," he says when he gets his breath back. Trent teaches him some simple kicks and punches, then they work on a heavy bag. Trent is impressed that Carlos is picking it up so fast. "What can I say? I'm a good student," says Carlos. Trent fires back, "Or maybe I'm a good teacher" and playfully bumps him with the punching bag.

Undercover apartment. Walker gives Carlos a briefcase with $50,000 in it. "You only get one more buy after this," Trivette says. Carlos is concerned that Johnny will be suspicious. They instruct him to tell Johnny that there's a new buyer in town who has a distribution network but no drugs. Hopefully he'll want to meet the mystery buyer.

Spy nightclub. Carlos tells Johnny about the buyer who'll give Johnny $50,000 a week: "You can handle part of that, all of that, or none of that. It's up to you." Johnny doesn't like working with strangers, but "as dear old Grandmother used to say, a stranger is merely a friend whom you have yet to meet." Nice grammatically correct fortune-cookie adage. Carlos tells Johnny that he'll be able to meet the buyer that Monday. "Of course, and I mean no offense, he'll wanna meet El Vaquero." Johnny can arrange that.

Carlos and Johnny go to the bar for a toast. Afterward, they hug and Carlos leaves. Johnny puts his hands on the bar, thoughtfully looking at the two tumblers in front of him. He puts his fingers inside the glass Carlos used, turns it upside down, and carefully deposits it in the bartender's palm. "Have this checked out," he says. Of course like all movie/TV drug lords, Johnny probably has a PI and/or cops on the take with access to fingerprint databases.

Thunder Karate. Trent gives Tommy advice on sparring in the upcoming tournament. "Watch his eyes....Right before they attack, a lotta guys open their eyes just a little bit wider." If Tommy knows what's coming, he'll be prepared.

Undercover apartment. Carlos announces to Walker and Trivette, "Johnny took the bait--hook, line, and sinker." Walker wants Carlos to constantly stay in touch with them. "When you change the rules, anything can happen," adds Trivette. Walker will be glad when this is over.

The foreshadowing trifecta ends in the VIP room at Spy. Johnny's henchman Paco has a report for the boss: "The fingerprints on the shot glass belong to a Carlos Sandoval. Detective Carlos Sandoval." The name seems to mean something to Johnny, as he replies, "Sandoval, huh?"

Cut to a school gym. A banner on a wall reads SIXTH ANNUAL TEXAS KARATE CHAMPIONSHIP. There are a few shots of people sparring and doing forms. For reasons unknown, Trent is absolutely the only instructor on the floor who's not wearing a uniform. Everyone is wearing sparring gear despite the lack of it at Thunder Karate. Kevin, one of Trent's students, loses his sparring match. He apologizes. Trent tells Kevin that he did his best, so he's still a winner. Tommy tells Trent that the black belts just got their 15-minute warning. "Where's Carlos?" Tommy wonders, "I thought he was supposed to be here."

Undercover apartment. Carlos walks out the front door. Johnny's henchmen approach. "Johnny wants to see you," says Paco. Carlos tells him it's not a good time, "I got someplace I gotta be and I'm already late." Paco shoots a hole in one of the Viper's tires and menaces, "You'll see him now."

Tournament. Tommy suits up for his first match. Walker is sitting in the stands with Alex. The buttons are practically popping off her cardigan, not a good look for anyone, much less a woman her age.

Paco and Juan drive to a warehouse and drag Carlos out of the car. As they walk up the stairs, Carlos protests that he has places to go and people to see. "Callate, Carlitos!" shouts Paco, giving him a shove (for those who don't know, callate is Spanish for "shut up"). Carlos tells him to speak English. They push Carlos into a room. From the shadows, Johnny silkily apologizes for the inconvenience. Carlos sees plastic sheeting on the floor and comes to the horrible realization that he's been burned. "You said you wanted to meet El Vaquero?" asks Johnny. He drills Carlos in the stomach twice and grabs his face, forcing Carlos to look at him: "Then say hello, Detective." Johnny punches him in the jaw.

Tournament. Tommy is sparring and head kicks are apparently legal.

Warehouse. Johnny hits Carlos in the face again. He asks who else knows about the undercover assignment. "That's privileged information. I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill ya," the detective responds. Carlos, this is really not a good time to get cute. Carlos gets hit twice more, the second hit splits his lip. Johnny tells him that Carlos can die the easy way or the hard way. Carlos says he has no other option: "You're all under arrest." Juan laughs. Another blow right to the solar plexus.

Tournament. Tommy is down 2-0 in his sparring match. He hears Trent's voice in his head: "Watch his eyes."

Warehouse. Johnny asks if Carlos has had enough. I should say so; one of Carlos's eyes is swollen shut and blood is streaming from his split lip, not to mention the potential internal damage. Juan and Paco are having to hold him up. Clearly punch-drunk, Carlos chuckles, "You didn't knock me down, right? I'm still standin' here." Johnny hits him in the stomach.

Tournament. The camera focuses for a moment on the eyes of Tommy's opponent. Tommy blocks and scores his first point, then another. Lyons grabs the opponent by the front of his gi and growls, "Does the word 'telegraph' mean anything to you? Why don't you send him a letter, tell him what you're gonna do?" He shoves the student back into the ring. Tommy executes the leg sweep/heel kick seen earlier, scoring his third and final point. Trent pumps his fist triumphantly. Lyons scowls.

Warehouse. Johnny hits Carlos again. "Before you die, there's something you should know," Johnny says, "Your brother Hector who got killed in the street like a dog? The guy that shot him, it was me." He screws a silencer over the barrel of his gun. "And you know why? Because he betrayed me, just like you." Carlos, suddenly filled with adrenaline and Hulk-smash rage, pushes Paco to the floor and elbows Juan in the face. Carlos runs down the hall and leaps onto a desk. Johnny shoots him twice. Carlos half-jumps, half-falls out the window, screaming all the way. He lands hard on a parked car. Johnny tells Juan and Paco, "Get rid of him." When Juan and Paco go downstairs, Carlos is no longer there.

Tournament. Trent gives his little brother a double high-five. "That felt so good!" says Tommy. Trent reminds him that there are 4 more matches. Tommy walks over to his opponent after Lyons finishes yelling him. Tommy explains that he knew by the kid's eyes that he was on the attack and was ready for him. The kid looks like he watches to punch Tommy for being such a smug little weasel and quite frankly, I would too. "You Malloys all think you are so smart," Lyons says to Trent and I'm willing to be there's history of him bullying Trent in school, "I keep hearing about what a great fighter you are and I am not that impressed. I gotta say, I can't wait to get you on the mat." Trent tells him this isn't the time or the place, but he won't like it when the time comes.

Alex and Walker appear from the stands to congratulate Tommy for, well, not even being close to winning the tournament, really. Walker thought Carlos was coming. Trent says he tried to call and nobody answered. Alex is sure he's just running late. Walker calls Trivette to see if Carlos has checked in.

Homeless encampment. Charlie pushes a curious onlooker out of an area that's been turned into a sort of enclosed bedroom. Carlos is lying unconscious under some blankets. Charlie takes a rag and gently dabs blood and sweat off Carlos's forehead.

Warehouse. Johnny is sitting on a chair, which is on top of the plastic sheeting meant for Carlos's body. "Johnny, he's gone," babbles Paco, "You shot him. We were both there, we saw it." Juan is sure Carlos is dead. Johnny asks how a dead body walks away. "I want him found and I want him found now!"

Tournament. Walker hangs up his cell phone. He's learned that Carlos hasn't called in. Alex will draw up search warrants. Walker asks Trent to check Carlos's apartment. Everyone pats Tommy on the shoulder before they leave.

Homeless encampment. Daniel, the unofficial leader, confronts the man who was curious about Carlos: "You know the rules. You stole from the community. You cannot stay here." The man looks almost like Alan Rickman, so he will henceforth be referred to as Homeless Snape. He threatens that Daniel hasn't seen or heard the last of him. When Homeless Snape leaves, Charlie tells Daniel, "There's something you need to see."

He shows Daniel to Carlos. The detective is semiconscious and clearly feverish. "Oh my God," breathes Daniel, "This man needs a doctor." Charlie says they can't because he thinks Carlos is wanted. "And you brought him here?" Daniel asks. Charlie tells Daniel about being attacked by Fat Redneck and Friend, Carlos saving him, and wanting to return the favor. "You gave your word and we'll honor that. But if you really wanna honor your promise to this man, you'll get him some help," Daniel says gently.

Undercover apartment. Trent sees the Viper is still parked in front but has a flat. He sees the size of the hole and realizes that someone must've shot the tire out. Meanwhile, Paco and Juan aimlessly prowl the streets looking for Carlos.

Back at the homeless encampment, Charlie is worried because Carlos is getting worse, mumbling that "Mom's got dinner." He doesn't know what to do. "Trent," Carlos says a little louder, "I'm thirsty, Trent." Charlie remembers Trent and hurries out.

Ranger Headquarters. Walker briefs the task force about the raid. There's been no word from Carlos, so they're assuming something has gone badly wrong. Alex comes in to drop off the warrants. The task force moves out.

Juan and Paco have no luck with the homeless man they're currently questioning, so they approach someone who just happens to be Homeless Snape. "We're lookin' for a friend of ours," says Paco, "He's about 5'11", 185 pounds, longish dark hair. He may be wounded. We gotta find him." Homeless Snape wants to know how good a friend. Juan holds out a $100 bill. "Real good."

Homeless encampment. A rat watches from the ceiling as Carlos rolls his head on his jacket, which Charlie put under him for a pillow.

The task force raids Spy, then Walker and Trivette chase down two street-level dealers in Walker's beautiful silver Dodge Ram pickup. Well, actually, Walker drives while Trivette pursues them on foot. Walker grabs one of the dealers by the jacket collar while driving, pulls the dealer into the open window, and knocks him out with a palm-heel strike. Another raid later, Trivette says, "We got everyone but Johnny Prima, Paco Montalbo, and Juan Ortiz." Walker will look for Carlos while Trivette interrogates their suspects.

Thunder Karate. Trent's blue Corvette Stingray pulls up at the curb. He finds Charlie waiting for him. Charlie lets Trent know that Carlos is hurt. Trent tells Charlie to get in the car.

Homeless Snape leads Juan, Paco, and Johnny into the encampment. Daniel tells Homeless Snape he's not welcome there. "Why don't you tell that to my friends?" Homeless Snape challenges. Daniel repeats that they need to leave. Johnny hits Daniel, pulls a gun, and says, "Next one takes a bullet." Homeless Snape takes Johnny to where Carlos was being kept. All that's there now is a pile of blankets and a bloodstained sheet. Johnny steps out of the room, grabs a homeless teenage girl, and points the gun at her head. "Tell me where he is or she's dead," he threatens.

Trivette calls Walker's car phone. He just heard from Trent that Carlos is at a homeless encampment on Commerce and "he's supposed to be pretty badly hurt." Walker says he'll check it out.

Homeless encampment. The terrified teenage girl leads Johnny through the warehouse. Trent has just parked outside. Johnny finds Carlos on the bottom of a set of old bunk beds. He isn't surprised that Carlos chose the hard way because Hector was stupid too. Trent kicks Johnny's gun arm. Charlie wallops one of the henchmen with a piece of wood and gets knocked out for his trouble. Trent easily knocks out Paco but has a harder time with Juan, even though Juan is smaller.

Johnny cocks his gun and says to the very Aryan-looking Trent: "Easy, Jackie Chan." This is the most unintentionally hilarious line of the episode and it comes at kind of a bad time, breaking up the rhythm of the final fight scene. Walker comes in the nick of time and shouts, "Drop it!" Johnny whirls around, brandishing his gun. Walker shoots him and Johnny collapses. Trent rushes to check Carlos's pulse and reports, "He's alive." Walker steps out to call an ambulance. "You're gonna make it, buddy, hang in there," Trent soothes.

Cut to Carlos now recovering in the hospital, arm in a sling, oxygen tubes in his nose, face still beat to crap. Trivette, Alex, Walker, and Trent are gathered around his bed. Walker tells him that Johnny's been killed, the rest are awaiting trial. He tells Carlos not to worry about getting El Vaquero. "Johnny was El Vaquero," Carlos croaks, "Johnny made up El Vaquero to give himself an advantage in negotiations."

Juan and Paco admitted to being there the night that Johnny killed Hector. "He killed your brother because he wouldn't deal drugs," Walker explains. Trivette adds, "Hector wanted to get clean and Johnny wanted to keep him dirty. When he couldn't do that, he killed him as a warning to everyone else." Carlos is stunned. "All this time, I thought..." He can't finish the sentence.

Cemetery. Carlos, still in a sling, kneels in front of a gravestone, holding a small bunch of flowers. He crosses himself. The gravestone reads HECTOR SANDOVAL 1966-1985. Carlos sniffles, "I love you, hermano." He leaves the flowers and walks away, wiping at the corners of his eyes. Trent opens the Stingray's passenger door and pats Carlos on the back. Carlos gets in and Trent shuts the door for him. They drive off. End of episode.

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