Reservation Dogs Season 2 (FX)
Written by Sterlin Harjo, Dallas Goldtooth, Ryan RedCorn, Chad Charlie, Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs, Tazbah Rose Chavez, Erica Tremblay, Bobby Wilson, Blackhorse Lowe, Migizi Pensoneau, and Tommy Pico
Directed by Sterlin Harjo, Erica Tremblay, Danis Goulet, Tazbah Rose Chavez, and Blackhorse Lowe
I was a big fan of the first season of Reservation Dogs, finding it to be a smartly written and fresh show. Indigenous comedy is not something we settlers are exposed to very often, and I was grateful to be introduced to the talents involved in this show. Dallas Goldtooth immediately became my favorite with his portrayal of the spirit guide William Knifeman. But despite how much I enjoyed that first season, I wouldn’t say I loved it. That all changed with season two, which takes the established characters and goes further. It is one of the most emotionally moving, yet still hilarious, seasons of television I have watched in 2022.
In season one, the storylines centered on the grief over Daniel’s suicide. The second season focuses more on individual characters rather than the whole group of our four protagonists. The first episode picks up a couple hours after the season one finale with Elora (K. Devery Jacobs) and Jackie (Elva Guerra) on the road to California. They get sidetracked and quickly end up back on the rez. The rift between Elora and Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai) hangs over the entire season and informs many choices the younger characters make. Bear gets a roofing job to help bring in extra money and crosses paths with Daniel’s father. Cheese (Lane Factor) is sent into foster care when his caretaker-uncle is arrested. Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis) is working to bring everyone back together. High school graduation looms, and letters the kids wrote to themselves in their freshman year are handed out. Willie Jack is given Daniel’s as he was her cousin, so she makes the decision to take it to his mom.
I sincerely appreciated the way the character’s emotional journeys were presented. Willie Jack praying to her ancestors for guidance and the cut to dozens of indigenous people wearing dress from across the centuries is a moment that will even choke up us settlers. It’s a powerful thing to be reminded of the generations that led up to our presence on this planet, notably when your people have been systematically reduced like the Natives in this show. The fact that Willie Jack is alive and well is something that her ancestors prayed for.
I also found “Mabel,” Episode 4, to be the best of the season. Elora is back home just as her caretaker grandmother Mabel succumbs to illness. The house becomes filled with family and community who are there to help the elderly woman move on into the next life. K. Devery Jacobs delivers a heartbreaking performance, conveying how overwhelming such a change to her life would feel. Elora lost her mother years earlier, and with the passing of her grandmother, she won’t have anyone there to directly take care of her. D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai’s performance in this episode is also outstanding. Bear wants to comfort Elora but still feels caught in his grudge over the events of the season one finale. At the very end, Elora rushes out of the house into the backyard right after her grandmother has passed, desperate for a breath of fresh air, and it got me. I would be surprised if anyone could watch this episode and not be, at the very least, teary-eyed by the end.
As in the first season, Rita (Sarah Podemski), Bear’s mom & Big (Zahn McClarnon), the local law on the rez, get fantastic spotlight episodes. Rita’s episode has her and her friends, known as The Aunties by the kids, attending the yearly Indian Health Service conference. For these women, this is their rare moment to get wild and enjoy themselves for a weekend. Each woman attempts to hook up with Natives from around the region who are attending to varying degrees of success and comedy. Rita is such a great character, elevated from just being a mom when she gets the spotlight. This is a complex person for whom “mother” is just one of many labels that could describe her. In her stories, you can see what she would have been like at Bear’s age and how many things he’s going through are part of life in this community.
“This Is Where the Plot Thickens,” Episode 8 is where we see Big forced to “team-up” with methhead Kenny Boy (Kirk Fox) when they accidentally consume some powerful psychedelics. As someone who does use psychedelics regularly, I appreciated the journey they sent Big on. It was funny & silly, but the part that lingers with me is Big confronting an event from his past that he holds tremendous guilt over. I loved that the drugs are shown to be a part of the healing process, allowing Big to go back to that memory and contemplate it. There’s a lot of comedy here, perfectly balanced with this beautiful healing character moment.
Reservation Dogs Season 2 has set the bar very high for the next one. I have confidence that the creative forces on this show will be able to give us more thoughtful stories about these characters. We’re set to see the four main characters come into their own next season, taking their first steps into adulthood. I am also interested to see where people like Big and Rita go. There are so many directions for the series, and so far, they have kept the perfect balance of comedy-drama. If there was one thing I was disappointed about was the absence of Dallas Goldtooth in front of the camera this season. His William Knifeman is one of my favorite characters in the show, and I hope we see him pop up multiple times in season three. There aren’t any shows really like this, and even fewer that present Indigenous voices so well. If you haven’t checked Reservation Dogs out, bump it up the queue. It’s completely worth it.