TV

FX on Hulu’s Reservation Dogs Is As Insightful and Bittersweet As Ever in Season Two

Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi’s FX series “Reservation Dogs” was easily one of 2021’s biggest, most welcome surprises. In a year that saw an explosion of Native-led stories on film and television—including Peacock’s “Rutherford Falls,” among others—it was “Reservation Dogs” that made the biggest critical impression, right down to winning a Peabody for its heartfelt, authentic portrayals of the everyday lives of Native Americans, stripped of poverty porn or undue exoticism. Season Two continues that tradition, even as it follows the well-worn FX tradition of shifting its comedies into more overt drama in their sophomore outing.

When we last left the titular “Reservation Dogs,” the tight-knit quartet of Indigenous kids getting by in Oklahoma’s Indian Territory, the group was scattered to the four winds in the wake of a devastating tornado. After saving up money all season to move to California (and hopefully escaping the fate of the group’s fifth member, Daniel [Dalton Cramer], who died by suicide), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis) and Cheese (Lane Factor) chose to stay after all. Elora (Devery Jacobs) decided to ditch the gang to travel west with Jackie (Elva Guerra), a sympathetic member of a rival crew. Meanwhile, the group’s de facto leader Bear (D’Pharoah Woon-A-Tai) is left holding the bag, wandering around the rez on his own looking for work and another way out. Ask Willie Jack, and she’ll tell you there’s bad medicine involved, a curse that only they can lift.

The curse, moreso than the glimmers of magical realism that pervades “Reservation Dogs,” is the effect of Daniel’s death, one whose ripples are still cascading across our characters’ psychological ponds. Bear resents the gang, Elora especially, for abandoning him on their quest to California in the hopes of escaping their friend’s fate. Now, with the gang split up and their former clubhouse about to be razed for a megachurch, Bear sees the specter of manhood approaching and is terrified to meet it. 

Elora, the only one actually making good on their plans to run from their problems to California, hits the challenges of the world headfirst. She and Jackie are accosted by shifty samaritans, MAGA hat-wearing good old boys who chase them down with shotguns in their pickup, and Megan Mullally as a well-meaning but deeply strange divorcee who serves them a tray of ‘spaghetti taco casserole’ (“You don’t wanna see what happens when I run out of ranch dressing,” she warns). By the time she returns to town, hat in hand, it feels like a defeat.

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