Reservation Dogs Season-Premiere Recap: NDN Storytelling
Season 3 Episode 1 Editor’s Rating4 stars ****
Photo: FX Háŋ. Miiyu. Hesci. O/siyo. Atelihai. Halito. Maru̶aweka. Howka. Dá nzhǫ́. Sheku. Yá’át’ééh. Haáahe. Dagote’. Klahowya Tillicum. Chikmaa. Chamay. ‘Niit, Sm’algya̱x. Chokma. Nawa. Jii-la/Ch’ee-la. Ngame! Kwe’. Piyalli. Edanat’e. He he! Shekoli. Inuugujooq. Nya:wëh sgë:nö’! Onöndowa’ga:’ Ayukîi. haʔahat. Hó. Irankarapte. ʔi čələp. Tet shi’. Pōsōh. Yaama. Kwira. A’kuu’kue’va’ni. Lokah su! Aniin/Boozhoo/Waciye. Wingapo. Hiyuk. Kah héy. Ndio Kwi. Wacheay. Dzaanh hoozoonh. Nyob zoo. Guw’aadzi. Ya’uc̓. Aloha. Ba’ax ka wa’alik. Hafa adai. Alii. Ṣ ʼap kaij. Had’ih. Wâcê. Oki! Naksa. Bawo ni. Malō. Բարեվ Tau! Miaxyen. Yiradhu Marang! Jingi. Poghisio. Jendia je! Naha:pipi. Kia Ora. Yaali. Da’i. Kuei. He:yung. Waqaaa. Kumusta. Camaii. Aang aang. Taanishi. Tansi kiyawaw. Tiervâ. Tiõrv. Imanalla! Mikwas-Nuwuvi. Keshshi. Taiguey. Weyt-kp. Ka wula. Kwai Kwai. Aroha Nui. Niltze. Azul! Hadix. Kalhwa7acw. Hant. A’Siem nu shayla sha. Habari yako. Mari Mari. Imaynalla kachkanki? Míiyuyam. Ama sa. Aho!
Greetings, everyone! All of the above are traditional greetings in Indigenous languages (and various dialects thereof) from across the globe. I think. If something is incorrect, if there’s a curse word, or if a penis instead of a hello slipped in there, please blame a very sneaky troll on NDN Twitter.
It’s mid-summer, which means that most of the Pacific Northwest is now on fire and Reservation Dogs is on the air again! Writing about this season will be pretty bittersweet, as Reservation Dogs writer-director–show creator Sterlin Harjo recently announced on social media that this would be the final one.
When I started writing these recaps, there were two Indigenous written/led series on mainstream U.S. television. People were calling it a Native American TV renaissance! But the Peacock series Rutherford Falls faced cancellation last year, and with the approaching departure of Reservation Dogs from Hulu, does this mean there will again be a massive gap in the television landscape when it comes to Indigenous representation? The future is uncertain. Currently, there are two animated shows for children with great Indigenous representation onscreen and behind the scenes — Netflix’s Spirit Rangers and PBS’ Molly of Denali. There are also lots of great Native actors, writers, and directors involved in the thriller series Dark Winds over on AMC. And don’t forget that in November, the new Marvel series Echo will drop, which features several Reservation Dogs alumni, such as Zahn McClarnon and Devery Jacobs, with Sydney Freeland set to direct. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that once the WGA/SAG-ATRA strike resolves (pay people, don’t do evil stuff with AI technology), this surge of Indigenous representation on television will continue to expand into new genres and platforms.
But enough about the oppressive, near-intolerable lifeways created by capitalism and colonialism — let’s talk about Reservation Dogs! During the season premiere’s cold open, Spirit catches us up on the action from last season and offers all the young warriors (even the unenrolled, disenrolled, or pretend ones) some foreshadowing for this season from the spirit world. We’ll return to Spirit throughout the episode.
When we last left off, Bear, Elora, Cheese, and Willie Jack had just put to rest the spirit of their friend Daniel by traveling to Los Angeles together. Does this mean the end of the hauntings around town, or are other spirits like Deer Lady and Big Brother still creeping around?
With their grief ceremony completed, the Rez Dogs are now scrambling to find a ride back to Okern after their car gets stolen. First, they stop by Bear’s dad Punkin’s place, but he’s not home, and it looks like he’s possibly ducked out on his new Los Angeles family too. Later, we find out that Bear leaves behind his prized pickle microphone medallion, along with a brutal good-bye message for his dad. Luckily, Bear’s auntie Teenie is out to rescue the kids. After recovering from a brief bout of car sickness, she gathers up the gang, gives White Jesus some hotdog money (wow, what a phrase to write), and they all head for the bus station.
The trip to California has offered the Reservation Dogs some relief, but they are still questioning their personal identities along with their places among community and family. On the first bus ride from Los Angeles, Willie Jack and Cheese seem resolved to stay in Okern for the time being, and they speculate on if/when Elora and Bear will leave them behind again. During their first stop in Amarillo, we see that Bear is still struggling to decide on his future, asking Elora, “What now?” Although he’s confronted his father and started to make peace with the events surrounding Daniel, Bear is still unsure what he wants to do with himself. “I think we’re meant to live how he [Daniel] wanted to live,” Elora responds insightfully.
Things are still shaky for the kids, and it doesn’t seem like that will let up anytime soon. While Bear is texting Jackie, it’s clear they are all bound to face some consequences for their “vacation” to Los Angeles. He’s then visited by Spirit, who tells him not to get back on the bus, that his “path leads elsewhere.” In the scramble to catch their next bus Bear gets left behind, and he has no way of contacting anyone because his phone is out of battery. Spirit tells Bear that this gives him an opportunity to help others and perhaps discover his greater purpose in life. With no money and no phone, Bear starts walking, eventually finding himself at a literal crossroads in the middle of Texas (complete with a tumbleweed). Symbolism! Bear hesitates at first and even looks like he is going to turn around, but eventually, he makes a choice — where that choice will take him remains unclear.
Meanwhile, Teenie tells Elora that she’s been fired from her job (possibly because she took time off to rescue the kids), and we get some additional backstory of her character, discovering that she’s been living in Phoenix for the last eight years, struggling with a mild case of homesickness. Teenie also warns Elora to take care of her “baggage” because she’ll be carrying it for the rest of her life. On their final bus to Okern, Elora offers to let Teenie stay at her place, and in response, Teenie drops a bombshell: Elora’s dad is still alive … and he’s white! I can only assume that reconnecting with her father will be a big part of Elora’s final character arc this season.
Where is Bear going to end up? Who is Elora’s dad, and will reconnecting with him bring her any peace? Will Cheese’s newfound interest in art end up taking him off the reservation too? And should Willie Jack have eaten that donut? This season continues to delve into many of the themes as the last: grief, trauma, and struggles with identity, community, and family. Several new storylines are being established, but who knows in which direction they’ll take us?
Willie Jack’s Deadly Meat Pies
• I am still baffled as to how Brandon Boyd, singer of Incubus, got involved in this project. He’s really funny in this episode. I guess only White Jesus has the answers to this one.
• Fellow 1491-er Ryan Redcorn has a delightful cameo in this episode as a Comanche-Ponca Juggalo (“It’s all connected, whoop whoop”). If you still haven’t checked out the 1491s — the all-Native comedy group started by Harjo, Goldtooth, Redcorn, Bobby Wilson, and Migizi Pensoneau — many of their sketches are still available on YouTube.
• It seems like Teenie will also go through her own reconnection process this season. Does this mean we will also be seeing more of the grown-ups on Reservation Dogs?
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