While last week’s episode had the Reservation Dogs crew growing closer together, the events of this week’s episode are threatening to rip the group apart. Four episodes in and the larger plotlines of the series are starting to become clear, but now I am so, so scared! Can’t our endearing Rez criminal not-so-masterminds just stay together? Okay okay, I know that the show needs to build momentum, but also for my own mental health I need to bask in the glory of young Indigenous folks just telling jokes and being wholesome (okay, wholesome-ish) for at least a little longer.
So, what’s the deal? Well: Bear’s dad, rapper Punkin’ Lusty (portrayed by real-life Mvskoke rapper Stenn Jodi), has been invited to perform his new hit song “Greasy Fry Bread” at the Indian Health Center’s Diabetes Awareness event (we see the whole video for the song before the start of the show and IT. IS. WILD). Excited at the prospect of seeing his father for the first time in years, Bear goes all out in preparing for the show. However, Rita, Bear’s mother, played by Anishinaabe/Ashkenazi actress and artist Sarah Podemski (and star of one of my all-time favorite short films, Danis Goulet’s Wakening), is less than optimistic that Bear’s Dad will make good on his promise to his son.
Throughout the episode, Rita talks out her conflicting feelings with the auntie version of the devil/angel on your shoulder, each of whom wears role-appropriate beaded earrings. We’re also witness to the deeply cringe-inducing aftermath of one of Rita’s one-night stands that made me flail my arms uncontrollably in distress while I watched it. In a scene that’s like if the Dad from Get Out had a Pocahontas Perplex, we find out that the potential new father figure that Rita picked up at the bar is a white dude with a gross fetish for Native women and that Native people were only recently allowed to eat dinner in the big fancy house Rita initially woke up admiring. He also has a gross confederate flag tattoo. It’s all just really, really, gross. It’s one of those scenes where I would have laughed at if it didn’t hit so close to home. The way Podemski plays the transformation from flirty to horrified is fantastic, and over the course of the episode she really ends up stealing the spotlight.
Later, when Bear’s dad inevitably ends up bailing on the show — and his son — Rita steps up (more than likely for the gazillionth time in Bear’s life) and tells Bear that she’s willing to support him in whatever choice he makes about the future of he and Punkin’s relationship. It’s an incredibly touching scene, and it shows that despite her gentle ribbing of Bear, Rita really cares about her son. And teaching your child autonomy and personal sovereignty? I am here for it!
Unfortunately, not everyone’s relationships are developing so well. In an earlier effort to show off to his father, Bear dips into the gang’s California getaway funds to buy a new tracksuit and a beaded medallion for his dad (which is supposed to be a microphone but ends up looking rather … phallic), and Elora calls him out for leeching up more than his share of the gang’s savings, which Bear shrugs off indifferently. It’s an unflattering moment for Bear, as when he blithely promises Elora that he’ll make the money back, he’s ultimately making the same kind of empty promise that his dad Punkin’ tends to make.
It’s an unfortunate move on Bear’s part, as it’s clear that he and Elora’s relationship is beginning to hit a breaking point. Earlier in the episode, rival gang leader Jackie approaches Elora and invites her to jump ship and join their gang so that Elora can more effectively gather the money she wants to get to California. While Elora rejects the initial offer, it’s a clear setup for future drama. Bear’s waffling eventually reaches a crest when, at the end of the episode, he leaves the expensive tracksuit and medallion lying abandoned on the couch. Elora, clearly disgusted, grabs her things and takes off. As she gets outside, Elora suddenly receives a text from Jackie asking if she’ll accept her offer to join their crew, leaving us at a cliffhanger moment with this plotline.
The portrayals of Native women and femmes throughout the episode are striking, as Native women have, by and large, been invisible within film and television outside of a few exceptions. In general, Westerns (which is the genre where most Native characters have appeared basically for all of film history) focused on conflicts between white and Native men, leading to Native women and children being largely absent from these stories. When Native women did appear in media, they were either sexualized as we see in films like Disney’s Pocahontas, which took sweeping liberties with the real-life experiences of an eleven-year-old girl, or when they’re not objectified, they’re outright debased. For example, there’s a notable ‘joke’ in John Ford’s The Searchers which revolves around kicking a Native woman down a gulch that always elicits audible gasps when I show the film to students and colleagues. So, I applaud the two writers of the episode, Tommy Pico (Kumeyaay) and Bobby Wilson (Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota) for broaching the subject with nuance … although let’s get some Native women on lead writer credits too — nudge, nudge — I know there are some Native women in that writer’s room!
The episode’s statement on the experiences of Native women really crystalizes during an exchange between Elora and Rita. After Elora expresses surreptitiously to Rita that Bear has been letting her down, Rita responds back with, “We’re Indian women. We have to deal with reality when they go off and play. And at the end of the day, we’re the ones who have to make it work.” Rita is talking about Punkin’, Bear’s dad, and Elora is talking about Bear, so this moment again seems to bring them into an unflattering comparison.
Afterward, Elora’s left to decide whether she thinks Bear is just playing around or if he’s serious about the crew’s plan. It’s clear that Bear is enjoying the fantasy of California, but as the series progresses it’s clear that his dedication is faltering. Elora, on the other hand, seems committed to the plan to get out of town, although her precise motivations remain unclear. Hopefully we’ll get more on this soon? At this point, it seems like Bear is either going to overcome his blindspot and realize that he needs to commit to the California plan, or he’s going to end up choosing to stay on the rez and risk breaking up the band. I want to find out what happens but also … big yikes! Why can’t everything stay sweet just a bit longer?
Willie Jack’s Deadly Meat Pies
• Did the pickle dick jokes in this episode seem damn-near poetic? Well, one of the episode’s co-writers, Tommy Pico, just so happens to be a poet. The whole hook-up scene with Rita also resonates with things Pico has written in his recent collections Junk and Nature Poem. Check them out!
• Bobby Wilson, the other co-writer listed on the episode, who made his cameo in “Uncle Brownie” as the weed-dispensary cashier, is a member of the 1491s alongside Sterlin Harjo, Dallas Goldtooth, Migzi Pensoneau (who serves as a producer on Reservation Dogs), and Ryan Redcorn (who shot all the beautiful promo pics for the series promos). Hate to sound like a broken record but if you love Reservation Dogs and haven’t already dived into the 1491’s catalog — get discovering! Ugh, okay, maybe saying you should “discover” the 1491s isn’t the best phrasing …
• Given the encroaching disaster that this episode is foreshadowing, let’s close with the wise insight from Auntie B. (Played by the hilarious Kimberly Guerrero): “What kind of Native rapper ain’t into pickles!?”