‘Reservation Dogs’ Season 1 Review: Strong Communities & Spirit Guides

Reservation Dogs Season 1

Reservation Dogs Season 1 created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, is a brilliant magic realism quirky comedy about a friend group of indigenous teenagers in rural Okren, Oklahoma. The mischievous friends call themselves the Reservation Dogs. 

The FX television series’ creators, directors, writers, and most of the actors are indigenous. The majority of them are descendants of North American tribes like the Muscogee, Navajo, and Anishinaabe. While Reservation Dogs shows the poverty in reservations and rural communities like Okren, it heavily features the richness and joy of this Oklahoma salt of the earth indigenous community.

My only minor issue with the first season is that actress twenty-eight-year-old Devery Jacobs, who plays teenage Elora Danan Postoak is between eight to twelve years older than her fellow co-stars. Now it’s important to remember that the first season was wrapped in July 2021. D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai and Paulina Alexis are twenty years old now but were still teenagers when filming began. Lane Factor is sixteen years old, so he is the only “age-appropriate” actor. 

There is also a big difference between twenty years old and twenty-eight. However, before I give any critiques, Devery does an excellent job performing as Elora, especially in “California Dreamin,” when she finds Daniel’s (Dalton Kramer) body. 

I am thrilled that the actress will now be joining the season two writer’s room. The only problem is that Elora seems like an adult who doesn’t need any parental support while the other main characters feel like teenagers.

Elora is the group’s caretaker, but she doesn’t seem like a teenager who has matured too quickly. Instead, she reads like an adult relative or family friend. Everybody else whose characters are teenagers in Reservation Dogs acts like fifteen or sixteen-year-olds who goof around. 

Elora’s character core controlling behavior and coldness comes from the trauma of losing her best friend Daniel, which makes some of her “adult” behavior natural. The problem is we, as the viewers, are not worried when she runs off to California. 

If Cheese (Lane Factor), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), or Bear Smallhill (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai ) had taken off in a car with just their archenemy Jackie (Elva Guerra), there would be legitimate concerns since I don’t think it’s realistic that they could survive in Los Angeles on their own. With Elora, she seems like a twenty-something who might struggle a little bit living in a big city but could get everything sorted. While lack of makeup and wardrobe can make Devery look like a believable teenager, it’s not enough to erase her natural maturity. Devery’s “adult” behavior makes it hard to believe that she is a minor.

Magic Realism is weaved throughout episodes bringing humor to the series while also pointing out societal issues in the community. Okren, Oklahoma, is an average, primarily small rustic community except when Native American residents interact with the spirit realm. 

There are not a lot of special effects or stylized shots that make these magical beings look otherworldly. Instead, Reservation Dogs feels rooted in the real world. 

The spirit guide William Knifeman (Dallas Goldtooth) visits Bear whenever he passes out or needs some advice. The awkward Warrior utters wise counsel to Bear while swearing at his horse or eating communion waivers. The spirit guide asks questions rather than directly ordering the teenage boy around. Instead of being this stereotypical silent “noble warrior,” William Knifeman appears to be this goofy guy who happened to be at the Little Big Horn Battle. The spirit guide wants Bear and his friends to help their community rather than race off to California.

In “Come and Get Your Love,” the Deer Lady (Kaniehtiioo Horn) comes to life as a vigilante who protects women and children from abusive, violent men who hurt their community. The Deer Lady legend is a childhood story in the Cherokee, Seminole, Muscogee, and the Pawnee tribes. 

She can be benign but also lures promiscuous men to their deaths. The Deer Lady usually takes the form of a beautiful woman or deer. In Reservation Dogs, the Deer Lady is a gorgeous Native American woman who wears an aviator jacket, beaded earrings, and bell-bottom jeans that hide her deer legs. The Deer Lady violently kills two White robbers who knock out a cashier and threatens Young Big’s (Bodhi Linton) life during a flashback.

After speaking to the spirit as a child, Officer Big (Zahn McClarnon) learns to be a good man who punishes criminals hurting the community rather than arresting decent people dealing with rough times. The Deer Lady warns the boy not to fall into the trap of alcoholism or become a deadbeat father. She wants Young Big to imagine his deceased grandmother is always with him to inspire him to fight evil. 

If he remains a good person, he won’t see the avenging spirit again. So we are left with the impression that Big will continue to be a decent man and police officer.

I recommend Reservation Dogs Season 1 to anybody who enjoys coming-of-age comedies and wants to see work about indigenous communities created by Native American artists. So many films and television shows about indigenous communities are poverty porn that ignores the culture within these reservations or small towns. Now it’s essential to bring attention to the missing and murdered indigenous women or the high rate of teen suicides in reservations. 

Sadly the world is not full of Officer Bigs or Deer Ladies who can protect these teens and women. Still, it’s also vital for young Native Americans to see positive representations of themselves. 

Also, the greater public is enriched by viewing indigenous people as good sheriffs, quirky teenagers, film buffs, and community leaders rather than just “wild west” stereotypes or as drunks. Watch the whole series on Hulu!


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