Writer and creator Sterlin Harjo promised that the Season 3 finale of “Reservation Dogs” would serve as the perfect ending to the FX series on Hulu. It’s a bold claim in a culture that often sees fans ripping finales and their writers apart (see “Game of Thrones,” “Dexter” and the like). But if the first few episodes of Season 3 are any indication, it’s more than likely our beloved Rez Dogs will get as close to perfect as possible.
From the first four episodes of the final season available for review, it’s clear the writers know exactly what the viewers want: Surreal spirits and quirky side characters guiding and challenging the young crew. Storytelling that manages to weave together the silly and absurd (trash bag donuts, UFO sightings, Flaming Flamers) with some of the harsh realities Native populations have had to face over generations (the atrocities and aftermath of Indian boarding schools get called out on more than one occasion this season). And of course, the Rez Dogs make blunder after blunder, but always learn and grow from those mistakes.
Basically, everything that has worked from the start of “Reservation Dogs” back in 2021 is present, but now it’s even more enjoyable because there’s history behind it.
These aren’t the same four kids grieving the passing of their best friend Daniel (Dalton Cramer) by stealing chip trucks and spray-painting penises on buildings — although all those things are still present in some ways. They’ve each dealt with their own struggles, though some more than others. And while they’ve had their differences on and off, after their road trip to California in Daniel’s honor, the group finally seem to be at peace within their ranks. Their individual journeys, however, seem to be the vehicle for these final chapters.
Season 2 concluded with the crew enjoying a healing moment on the beach, after which Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai) revealed he wouldn’t be returning to Okern (the fictional town in Oklahoma where they live). In the first episode of Season 3, however, Bear’s plans quickly go south thanks in part to his chronically unreliable father, struggling rapper Punkin Lusty ( played by popular Native hip hop arist Sten Joddi).
With the help of the delightfully ironic White Jesus (played by Brandon Boyd of “Incubus”), the foursome eventually get in touch with their families back home. Teenie (Tamara Podemski) is sent in to collect the wayward teens, but things get more complicated from there. At one of several bus stops, Bear argues with Spirit William Knifeman (Dallas Goldtooth), and subsequently ends up going on his own quest.
It’s here that we’re treated to a bizarre-but-beautiful side story (complete with an unforgettable cameo by Graham Greene) that helps Bear finally begin to truly heal and find his metaphorical way home. It’s only with the help of Deer Lady (Kaniehtiio Horn), however, that he is finally able to figure out his way back to Okern. And speaking of Deer Lady, the writers finally give us some more backstory to this mythical fan favorite, but you’ll have to wait and see it yourself — and trust me, it’s worth the wait.
Once Bear rejoins Elora Danan (Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs), Cheese (Lane Factor), and Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), it’s time for the Dogs to face the music. They did technically “run away” across state lines after all, and the elders are anything but pleased. Sentenced to “hard labor” at the Indian clinic along with Jackie (Elva Guerra).
Throughout the season, the writers push each character toward their promising futures. Elora, who like her namesake remains the most determined of the bunch, continues to look for a life beyond Okern. After being offered the chance to potentially work at the clinic, she mulls pursuing higher education, leading to a big reveal that should shape her journey through the finale. Willie Jack, meanwhile, begins to entertain the possibility of becoming something of an apprentice to Old Man Fixico (the elder medicine man who always sets up shop outside the clinic, played by Richard Ray Whitman). As for Cheese? Well, there’s no doubt a happy resolution awaits him as well.
All of our old favorites continue to make appearances throughout these last episodes. We still get to see Lil Mike and Funny Bone (Mose and Mekko of Native rap group Mike Bone) popping in and out to offer random observations. And Bear’s mom Rita (Sarah Podemski), Willie Jack’s dad Leon (Jon Proudstar), Officer Big (Zahn McClarnon), Uncle Brownie (Gary Farmer), Kenny Boy (Kirk Fox), and Bucky (Wes Studi) are also present to make us laugh, cry and sometimes both one more time. It’s hard to say goodbye to characters we only just now feel truly connected to, but if ending on a high note was always the plan, they’ve truly succeeded.
“Reservation Dogs” may have reeled in viewers initially with its play on the popular Tarantino flick, but it locked them in thanks to a combination of refreshing storylines and dialogue, smart and often hilarious performances, and a true commitment to representation thanks to Harjo, Waititi, and the rest of the cast and crew. Not only has it paved the way for more Indigenous voices to be heard going forward, this Peabody Award-winning cult classic proves that there’s a broad audience that can’t wait to see more.
“Reservation Dogs” Season 3 premieres with two back-to-back streaming episodes on Wednesday, Aug. 2, exclusively on Hulu.