TV: Reservation Dogs (Season 3)

What a special series Reservation Dogs turned out to be. After two exceptional seasons culminating in a picture-perfect season two finale, the show went into its planned final year with a high bar to clear, but does so effortlessly.

It begins with the “res dogs”—Elora (Devery Jacobs), Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), and Cheese (Lane Factor)—stranded in California after their cathartic pilgrimage to the ocean. Their return to Okern is beset by an unexpected detour or two, especially for Bear, but eventually they settle back into their community. Having found closure for the grief caused by their close friend Daniel’s suicide, they start to move forward, leading to fateful decisions for each of them: some deciding to move on to new things, others to stay and embrace their community.

Reservation Dogs doesn’t sound like much in summary, but after its emotional, heart-rending closure, it’s impossible for me to describe it as anything other than a slice-of-life masterpiece. Its milieu may be unique, but the themes are universal, with a real focus on coming-of-age growth and community. These themes speak directly to the Indigenous American roots, of course, but resonate beyond. Like earlier seasons, this one has an anthology feel, with terrific setpiece episodes that border on the fantastical; “Deer Lady,” featuring Kaniehtiio Horn’s recurring, mythical character, and the flashback episode “House Made of Bongs” are notable standouts. But generally, it’s a simple show about making a life in a very specific setting, and how the connections between people create a more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts community. The sheer number of distinct figures is mind-boggling in light of the show’s relatively short run; Matty Cardarople, Gary Farmer, Kirk Fox, Dallas Goldtooth, Elva Guerra, Funny Bone, Lil Mike, Zahn McClarnon, Sarah Podemski, Jana Schmieding, Wes Studi, and Richard Ray Whitman are among the many unforgettable characters who will be missed, while Graham Greene and Ethan Hawke turn up in important guest spots. While it’s sad to say goodbye to all these great characters, it’s also hard to deny the exit seems perfectly timed and gracefully executed. What’s more, a future rewatch will likely unearth more pleasures, as connections and continuity reveal more layers. A brilliant series from start to finish.

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