The third and final season of Reservation Dogs premiered on Hulu last week, with the first two episodes available to stream and new episodes releasing on Wednesdays. In it, we find Elora Danan (K. Devery Jacobs), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), Cheese (Lane Factor), and Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai) bidding White Jesus and Los Angeles goodbye when Teenie (Tamara Podemski) arrives to escort them home by bus.
At the Amarillo bus station, Bear is distracted by the spirit of William Knifeman (Dallas Goldtooth) and fails to reboard with the rest of the gang. He’s stranded in Texas with no money and a dead cell phone. During the last episode of season two, Bear, wading into the ocean with the memory of Daniel, said he wasn’t going back to Oklahoma. In the bus station, William Knifeman tries to convince him that this instinct was correct, and whether he convinced him of that or not, Bear’s on that inner journey now.
Sterlin Harjo and the Rez Dogs team start this season off by quietly examining the challenges of adolescence, poverty, grief, and family. The first two episodes highlight the ways in which the universe is cyclical. In California, Bear decided it was time to stop trying to connect with his estranged father. On the bus ride home, Elora discovers that her father, a white man she’s never known, is alive and friends with Teenie on Facebook. Cheese expresses his fears about what will happen when Elora and Bear inevitably leave the reservation. While traveling by foot from Amarillo, Bear is taken hostage by Maximus (Graham Greene), a former Akern resident who mixes lessons about the nature of the universe with stories of being mistreated in boarding schools and mental institutions. Maximus is waiting for the return of The Star People. He is equal parts gentle lucidity and aggravated conspiracy theories.
The Star People are less space aliens and more ancestral spirits in some Native American folklore. Maximus believes they have a lesson to teach Bear about the nature of love. Love can just exist without being received. Maximus can love The Star People without being able to perceive them. Bear can love his father without being with him. He and his friends, who are a lot like Maximus and his friends at that age, can love each other without being together. That feels like an important idea as the show winds down with a season that Harjo has promised will be darker than the previous two.
Under a brilliant night sky, Maximus explains that we are all just echoes of events that came before, and that The Milky Way is a passageway to the creator of all things.
These are the first lessons Bear learns on his journey. When he reluctantly “escapes” from Maximus with a bag full of eggplants, he gets back to the highway through a sewage pipe that looks like something Stephen King would call a doorway between worlds. It’s a straight shot on I-40 from Amarillo to Tulsa, but Bear’s path back home will not be so straightforward. It’s a good thing he’s got all of those eggplants with him, as gifts for The Star People or to nourish himself on his journey. Or maybe those are the same thing.
While the Rez Dogs are not yet all together and safely back home, they are all here. Cheese with his dry sense of humor, and Willie Jack’s low-key supportiveness and righteousness will be necessary if Elora starts her own journey to find her father while Bear continues to make his way back to the res.
The next episode of Reservation Dogs will be available to stream on Wednesday on Hulu.