Last year, the second season of Reservation Dogs concluded with a satisfying series finale. The show, which follows a group of Indigenous American youth navigating their way through delinquency on a reservation in small-town Oklahoma, gradually became more emotional and melancholy as the episodes progressed. In the final episode of season two, the characters reached California and tearfully embraced each other in the Pacific.
Many shows would be satisfied with ending it there. However, three months after its US airing, the third and final season of Reservation Dogs, which according to creator Sterlin Harjo, brings definitive closure, has been released on Disney+. If there were concerns that the series had reached its limit, those worries can be put to rest. Reservation Dogs has always dared to reveal its emotional side, and these last episodes hold nothing back. They are more peculiar, profound, and extensive than any previous episodes.
Season two focused on the Dogs leaving Oklahoma, while season three centers around their return. Some do so by taking a bus directly. However, Bear, portrayed with great adolescent charm by D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, takes his time and goes on a meandering road trip filled with quirky characters. In this group of episodes, Reservation Dogs presents what could be considered its most notable episode – a flashback-heavy tale about the harshness of Native American boarding schools, where Indigenous youth were pressured to conform under the threat of punishment.
The episode in question, marked by quotation marks, appears to be the most significant in the group. It serves as a pause to bring attention to a dark moment in history that may not be well-known to a larger audience. However, Reservation Dogs has never been solely focused on tackling social issues. Its creators, led by Harjo, have always taken a more nuanced approach, which is evident in the rest of the episodes.
To showcase the extent of the meandering nature of the last season, there is no typical episode that takes place in Oklahoma until nearly halfway through. And even then, it is constantly on the move. The following episode immediately goes back in time to 1976, portraying the reservation’s elders at the same age as the main characters, exhibiting similar rebellious and dissatisfied behavior.
Television shows often lose their focus when they stray from their original concept. However, this is not the case with Reservation Dogs. The show effectively takes us on a journey through time, to the great outdoors, and even into the spiritual realm, all with the clear purpose of revealing the true nature of its characters.
This tactic proves to be extremely successful, as the last three episodes of the season are some of the most visually stunning to ever appear on television. Without giving too much away, the Dogs are forced to mature and take on responsibilities typically held by their elders, along with all the emotional baggage that comes with it. A previously mentioned but unseen character is finally introduced (played by a well-known movie star who skillfully portrays a range of complex emotions). In one particular scene in the final episode, the importance of community is illustrated using a bag of chips and energy drinks as props, resulting in one of the most heart-wrenching and inspiring moments I have ever witnessed.
The power of Reservation Dogs is truly remarkable. When your friends praise it as one of the best shows on television, citing its numerous awards and critical acclaim, this is the kind of moment they are referring to. While its impact on representation both on and off screen cannot be overlooked, what I will miss most about Reservation Dogs is its ability to evoke subtle emotions from everyday experiences. At its peak, the show was a masterpiece of art. If you have not yet watched it (which is likely, based on statistics), I strongly encourage you to give it a try. It will stay with you forever.
The final episode of this series echoes the climax of the second season. After a significant event that changes their lives, the Dogs come together once more, finding solace in the present but unsure of what lies ahead. It takes a well-crafted show to deliver a flawless series finale, and Reservation Dogs accomplishes this feat not once, but twice.