“We can’t spend the whole show every season trying to get to California,” Sterlin Harjo told IndieWire.
Editor’s Note: Contains spoilers for the season finale of Reservation Dogs Season 2.
The second season of Sterlin Harjo’s “Reservation Dogs” felt very much like the final season of “Atlanta,” with an emphasis on strong bottle episodes that ultimately forced the Res Dogs to seek their own individual identity. But the season finale, aptly titled “I Still Believe,” finally brought the foursome back together to find strength and trust in their friendship. A trip to California, a meeting with White Jesus, and a trip to the beach were enough for the Res Dogs to finally close the chapter on what sparked the series in the first place and go into Season 3 with a completely clean slate. That is exciting.
Bear, Elora, Willie Jack and Cheese (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Devery Jacobs, Paulina Alexis and Lane Factor respectively) having an imaginary seaside reunion with Daniel (Dalton Cramer) was a powerful decision. The first season mourned the immediate loss of their boyfriend while also criticizing how much Daniel’s unhappiness was due to him living on the reservation.
“We can’t spend the whole show every season trying to get to California,” co-creator Sterlin Harjo told IndieWire, and while that’s true in Season 2, it became clear that it wasn’t the answer, the res to leave the characters. Fans have had glimpses of Daniel’s unruly home life before, and after watching the final two episodes of Season 2, it’s apparent that no one in the group will ever know Daniel’s motivations for ending his life, but California may have not saved at all. This awareness is never spoken out, but watching season 2 it’s evident that the friends had to find their own goals and individual dreams, which may or may not lie in their own hometown.
Harjo said it wasn’t enough to keep the grief centered and it was the best move the show could make. No doubt Daniel’s death will always be on the sidelines of these characters’ minds, as is life, but this season was firmly about the future, not the past. The Res Dogs are now entering their senior year, and Bear’s outburst of wanting to stay in California will undoubtedly have a major impact on Season 3. It’s actually ironic that Season 2 begins with Elora having an aborted trip to California, and culminates with Bear being the one choosing to stay. “That’s where we’ll find them next season, almost on an individual journey. They’re a group, but they keep delving and really looking at their individual arcs,” said Harjo.
When a show crosses over from high school into the real world, it’s always difficult. Perhaps because, as viewers, the high school nostalgia and wide range of opportunities is better than the everyday things we actually do as adults. This season has given us a bit of that as Elora now lives on her own and is beginning to make her own decisions as her grandmother’s house and Bear get a job. Life will inevitably pull these friends apart, but how will the series navigate to make the struggles to get a job, pay bills, and make adult life interesting? Greater efforts may be made to investigate issues on Indigenous reservations. The series has always been able to balance social commentary with humor, albeit less so this season than Season 1.
It’s exciting to see Reservation Dogs go into Season 3 with a clean slate. The past season has expanded and shown strong individual acting, notably in “Mabel,” the episode co-written by Jacobs, and “Offerings,” which focuses on Willie Jack. Where Indigenous women are slowly being given opportunities to reverse the narrative of being perpetual victims on TV, Reservation Dogs gave them the opportunity to be strong, fun and messy. Additionally, pulling the quartet apart provided an opportunity for actors like Alexis and Factor, who were feeling more peripheral in Season 1, to showcase their acting skills. As the new season begins, new friends will no doubt continue to shape the characters, forcing the actors to hone their skills accordingly.
The possibilities for Season 3 of Reservation Dogs seem endless. You also feel hopeful. While the first two seasons were an intense, if comical, exploration of grief and loss, at some point the group needed to move on so they (and the show) could grow. That growth, both individual and collective, will no doubt fuel another season that’s equal parts crazy and insightful.
https://www.indiewire.com/2022/09/reservation-dogs-finale-season-3-blank-slate-1234768193/ Reservation Dogs Finale: What Happens in Season 3?