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Four kids walk down the street dressed in suits in this image from FXP
The reservation dogs: Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), Elora Danan (K. Devery Jacobs), Bear (D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), and Cheese (Lane Factor). (Image: FXP)

When Hulu teased “Reservation Dogs,” I, along with many others, was excited to see it because Taika Waititi was involved. As a person of Māori descent from New Zealand who knows something about being an Indigenous person living in a predominantly white country, the fact that Waititi was credited as a co-creator signaled that “Reservation Dogs” would be done right. It also said that the show might bear some of the director's hallmark charm. From the very first episode, “Reservation Dogs” delivered on that hope. It was incredibly funny, often surreal, and completely original. It has only gotten better since then.

Are you also sad that “Reservation Dogs” is on its last season? Let us know in the comments! 

Everything from the writing to the acting quality has improved over the first two seasons. So, it's only logical the third season will be the best yet, and if that's the case, it's a shame we won't get to see more. In the streaming age, a show ending after three seasons is noteworthy — most shows on Netflix don't make it past two. Unlike those shows, “Reservation Dogs” wasn't cut because it didn’t bring in viewers or because it was too expensive to make. The show is ending after three seasons because Sterling Harjo, the show's creator, felt it was the time; the plot had come to a natural conclusion. Still, it feels too soon.

There are so many characters whose backstories we haven't explored, too many aspects of Native American culture that we've yet to understand, and far too many things I want the titular reservation dogs to resolve and experience.

The Cultural Impact of 'Reservation Dogs'

A man sitting on a horse points toward something offscreen in this image from FXP.
Spirit (Dallas Goldtooth) steals the show in every scene. (Image: FXP)

“Reservation Dogs” was the first mainstream TV show many saw that portrayed Native Americans in an accurate, non-stereotypical light. When traditional vestments are used in the show, for example, it has real meaning. When spirits appear, like the audience-favorite Spirit (Dallas Goldtooth), or when “medicine” is used to curse or remove curses, it's done respectfully and not to ridicule. There's a purpose behind every gesture, saying, and garment, and that purpose is cultural. “Reservation Dogs” is arguably one of the most important and prominent examples of Native American representation in the U.S. Though it's not inherently meant to educate, I believe many in the audience have learned more about the current Native American experience than they have from other forms of mainstream media. I know this because I speak from experience.

Although I grew up in Texas, which borders Oklahoma where the show takes place, I didn't know much about Native American culture — I don't think I'm alone in that. Native American history and culture have been relegated to textbooks and museum exhibits, and while those forms of media can do a lot to educate, TV is king. This is America, after all. If the topic isn't popular on TV or streaming services, there's hardly any coverage or discourse. By putting a group of young, naive, and lovable Native American kids in front of the country, “Reservation Dogs” has done a lot to recontextualize our perspective on Native American culture.

Bear (D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), Cheese (Lane Factor), and Elora Danan (K. Devery Jacobs) are funny, relatable, flawed, but most importantly, always willing to grow. As a Mexican-American man, I see a lot of my people in the reservation dogs. They could be my cousins. That's because I, and up to 93 percent of the Mexican population, can be classified as mestizo, meaning we're a mix of white European and Indigenous Mexican blood.

While I don't identify as Native American, when I watch “Reservation Dogs,” I do relate to the struggles that the characters confront. I know the impact colonization has had this many generations down the road. I know what it's like to be Brown. I know what it's like growing up in a small town — where everyone's lived there all their lives — and wanting more than anything to get out. My friends and I were broke, too, and walked desolate neighborhoods in search of adventure, finding that there wasn't much to do but to hang out in quiet, empty spaces where we felt free. But I also know the power that family and community have over a person. Even after a decade of leaving home, I feel it; the pull of home never quite goes away.

Three Seasons Isn't Enough

A woman talks to a man from outside a car window in this image from FXP
If you're bad, the Deer Lady (Kaniehtiio Horn) will come for you. (Image: FXP)

However, this isn't about me and how my Mexicanidad overlaps with my Native American identity. It's how “Reservation Dogs” has the power to entertain, inform, educate, and bring attention to a group of people who have been cast aside and overlooked since the foundation of this country. Yet, it expands beyond cultural identity.

“Reservation Dogs,” from the get-go, has not been a show afraid of tackling serious topics. Suicide, grief, guilty, parental abandonment, and broken friendships are just a few of the recurrent themes. Though, when broaching serious themes, it doesn't feel like you're being talked at. By peppering the plot with surrealism, like Deer Lady (Kaniehtiio Horn) or the glowing orb in Season 2, Episode 2, it makes it easier to swallow the hard truths. On other shows, that mix would result in something tacky and overstated, but where other shows would fail, “Reservation Dogs” pulls it off with tact.

I could go on about why “Reservation Dogs” is so special and deserves to stay on the air. I could talk about how I still laugh about “organtic,” as Big says, how much I enjoy every Spirit appearance, how Greasy Frybread was stuck in my head for days, or how much of my younger brother I see in Cheese.

All of that is to say, while I'm devastated that this show is gone way too soon, I'm also grateful. I'm grateful that a show like this was made to begin with, and that we were lucky enough to get two more seasons of it to enjoy.

One thought on “I Hardly Knew Ye: Why the Last Season of ‘Reservation Dogs’ Is Too Soon

  1. James0959 says:

    This show is so slept on. It deserves more attention!

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