Earlier this year, lawmakers in the state of Oklahoma filed legislation whereby they sought to establish a Bigfoot-hunting season within the state. It’s unclear whether the law, which Republican state representative Justin Humphries introduced, was simply a publicity stunt designed to attract tourists or whether lawmakers were fueled by an actual desire to capture the mysterious cryptid. Bigfoot may be the most studied and represented cryptid in the whole U.S., with representations ranging from the terrifying (The Legend of Boggy Creek) to the absurd (Harry and the Hendersons). This week’s episode of Reservation Dogs finally reveals the Muscogee take on a Bigfootlike critter called Tall Man that, throughout the season, we’ve been told may be stalking the city of Okern, Oklahoma. But while hunting and hairy tall men form the surface of this episode, there’s a bit more going on just below the frost line.
The sixth episode of the season is a detour into the life of emergent fan-favorite Willie Jack. After rousing her Dad, Leon (played by Yaqui actor and comic-book writer Jon Proudstar, whose stage name derives from that of Marvel comic book character Thunderbird), at what my own hunter father would refer to as “the butt-crack of dawn,” the two head out for the opening day of deer season. Thematically, the episode focuses on family and grief, with Willie Jack and Leon slowly breaking open together over the loss of Daniel as their hunting trip wears on.
But quickly back to Bigfoot, or “Tall Man,” as Leon refers to him. In the episode’s cold open, we see that one year prior (which is roughly around the same time Daniel passed away), Leon had a run-in with a hairy, red-eyed figure while putting out some winter deer feed. The symbolism of Tall Man is a bit more opaque than what we saw in the last episode with Deer Lady, but Willie Jack suggests that the appearance of the being may be linked to her departed friend Daniel. This seems to hold up, as we see in another flashback a clearly distressed Daniel, on his way home from a night out with Elora, stopping to ask Leon if he needs any help loading up the truck. Daniel is obscured by shadows, and the way he steps out of the darkness does look a bit like the way Tall Man appears in the cold open, so I suspect that there may be more to this parallel. As a Lakota viewer, I’m not familiar with the significance of Tall Man to Muscogee folks (again, proof not all Natives are the same), so if any of y’all have insights as to whether Tall Man might be some kind of omen, hit me up on Twitter — and thanks to all the folks who reached out to explain the Uncle Brownie owl-eyes joke to me!
In any case, visually, the interaction between Leon and Daniel also parallels Bear’s ghostly interaction with a similar shadowy figure earlier on in the season. Sadly, at the time of Daniel’s late-night visit, we discover that Leon doesn’t seem to fully recognize that something is awry, and he later shares with Willie Jack that he feels guilty and wishes he could have done more to save Daniel. And, at the end of the episode, we see Tall Man again looking out from the forest as the two head out with their prize, leading me to believe this other-than-human relation may continue to play a role in the series.
While processing their grief, Willie Jack and Leon go back and forth over the Reservation Dogs’ plan to head to California. Leon, surprised by this news, voices support for his daughter’s choices, but he also seems dubious of her decision to leave home. It appears Willie Jack wants to spread her wings, seeing more opportunities to do so beyond the rez, to which Leon responds that there are places she’s needed at home. In the end, Leon tells his daughter that people leave the reservation all the time but, ultimately, always find their way back because “this is where their people are — their home.”
“Hunting” is a bit too slow and a bit too quiet, given that the season only has eight episodes, but we do acquire a few important pieces of information. For one, we know that Daniel’s death may be in some way linked to his relationship with Elora, although the details of their friendship (or romance?) haven’t been fully fleshed out yet. Additionally, we see Daniel in some severe emotional distress, and this, coupled with the outburst he has while out hunting and Leon’s line that he couldn’t “help [Daniel] in the way he needed to be helped,” seems like it may have been a factors that contributed to his death. I can’t quite place it, but there’s something deeply troubling about the way Willie Jack’s face drops as Daniel is out there screaming at the deer in the woods — it’s a look that may imply this is regular behavior for Daniel. Whether his death was an accident or something darker remains unrevealed.
And finally, in terms of whether Willie Jack is as serious as Elora about getting out of town, that’s also still totally up in the air. While she acts casual about the plan with her dad, Willie Jack also seems to be harboring some sentimental feelings for home. This, plus she, like Bear, has a supportive parent holding on to her. Catching the elusive deer “Chunk” that she, Daniel, and Leon had chased together years earlier seems to provide Willie Jack with some closure regarding Daniel’s death, and she even tells Daniel’s memorial that “everyone wants to leave to California but … it’s really hard leaving everyone here. I dunno how you did it.” The line suggests that she isn’t quite ready to let go yet, but with only two more episodes left in the season, we will hopefully know the whole story behind Daniel’s passing soon enough.
Willie Jack’s Deadly Meat Pies
• Didja hear? Reservation Dogs has been officially renewed for a second season!
• Leon’s important dad lesson? Always hit critters that run into the road: “Even if it’s a cute little puppy, you send that thing into the spirit world — you don’t how many accidents have been caused by people trying to swerve”
• A+++ marks for writing deep, character-developing dialogue for the Texas Ranchers characters, including the line: “Mexicans. Investments. Cancel Culture. Wokeness. Government overreach. And don’t forget the gays!”