BUSSIN – | Review Score – 4/5
Maximus – | Review Score – 4.5/5
Deer Lady – | Review Score – 5/5
Friday – | Review Score – 4.5/5
House Made of Bongs – | Review Score – 4/5
Frankfurter Sandwich – | Review Score – 5/5
Wahoo! – | Review Score – 4.5/5
Send It – | Review Score – 5/5
Elora’s Dad – | Review Score – 5/5
Dig – | Review Score – 5/5
Recently a friend asked me what I’d been watching lately, and I, of course, responded to gush about Reservation Dogs. I couldn’t exactly capture the heart of Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi’s show, but I did dub it a coming-of-age drama about Indigenous teens on an Oklahoma reservation. “They’re just trying to find themselves and their place in their community.” She looked puzzled, but intrigued. “That sounds more like a movie than a TV show.”
She was kind of right. Reservation Dogs is fairly light on plot–something you’d expect more from a film than an ongoing series, and something I’m not at all opposed to from either medium. It’s like Beatrice Loayza says in her article for The New York Times: Movies are “not about watching stories, but inhabiting worlds they have not told us of.” I think her overall argument–that narrative is about so much more than storytelling, and that we limit films when we measure them by story alone–applies to TV shows as well. Because as it stands, Reservation Dogs has been one of the richest TV offerings of recent times. That’s much in part because it’s so eager to break the current mold of plot-heavy, cut-the-“filler” TV, and it does so masterfully.
The season follows four Indigenous teens, The Rez Dogs, in the fictional reservation town of Okern, Oklahoma. Season 3 picks up after Bear (D’Pharoah Woon-A-Tai), Elora (K. Devery Jacobs), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), and Cheese (Lane Factor) put to rest the spirit of their friend Daniel. After getting to California–what had been their dream all along–they now have to ask themselves… “What now?”
Even considering the show’s quieter moments and pockets where little drama is had, there’s really no such thing as “filler” in Reservation Dogs season 3. Even when the focus is away from the Rez Dogs, even when you’re watching and thinking we can’t possibly be moving forward to a resolution, something deeper is taking place.
It’s true that a fair amount of this season isn’t explicitly about Elora, Cheese, Willie Jack, and Bear. Its eyes are often to the past and how it’s always informing the present. Harjo is less interested in a linear story about his protagonists and more interested in who they are. And it’s more than their story that informs that. Their narrative is tied up in their past and who their ancestors are.
Even the present-set episodes that don’t center on the Rez Dogs still help us frame themes in the protagonists’ storylines. The introduction of a new character in Maximus (Graham Greene) is the glue to the series, solidifying themes Harjo has been exploring all along–most especially, community.
We’re treated to all sides of a community this season. From intergenerational bonds, to blood family, found family, friends coming together, former enemies coming together. These storied connections are integral to the forming of who the Rez Dogs will be and what their place will be in their community.
Their identities are built from the slow burn of realizations and character development that goes with coming of age. It’s a testament to the creators and writers that, in the course of three seasons, Reservation Dogs has never stopped providing us with a coming-of-age story (and never stopped being funny as hell in the process). The show understands that coming of age is never just about one thing. The unease and uncertainty remain at every step of growing up; finding out who you are doesn’t magically happen with a life lesson in one’s pocket. While some trauma has begun to heal by the end of season 2, the Rez Dogs are still growing up in this season, still finding their place in the world.
Going back to that quote from Loayza, I think Reservation Dogs is about more than stories. It’s about “inhabiting worlds they have not told us of.” This final season of Reservation Dogs closes out as a love letter to this fully-formed world that many of us have never seen before. By the end of the show, it’s not in spite of but because the series has taken the time to slow down, look at the past, and look at a plethora of other members in the community, that the Rez Dogs’ narrative is so rich in its emotional strides.
Truly, Reservation Dogs is a treasure of a show. I’m just sad we’re all losing it, and I hope part of its significant impact will be to usher in more Indigenous narratives by Indigenous creators.
Verdict - 9.5/10