WarningMight contain spoilers.

This is a one-of-a-kind show. I don’t know how else to describe it. There are so many atypical characters: the detestable receptionist at the clinic, the inexplicably compelling weed-smoking man whose door Big knocks on in ‘Come and Get Your Love’, Bucky in the same episode, Uncle Brownie, Kenny Boy… I could go on and on, and that’s without even mentioning the leads or their families. I did have my reservations (pardon the pun) at the start because I was torn between recognizing that the eponymous Dogs are doing what they can to survive in a terrible milieu and acknowledging that their actions affected others, but those consequences are an important part of the story.

Naturally, it’s filled with quiet humour, much of it created through lingering, understated reactions, like in ‘What About Your Dad’ when an unrecognizable Garrett Hedlund asks with precisely-pitched confusion after Rita leaves, Was it the tattoo? (a moment that’s written and directed to perfection—the show waits just long enough to reveal the other side of his character).

Sometimes, the funny moments really are enough to make you gasp for breath, like Cheese wishing the Indian Mafia “au revoir”, as they say in Germany, which leads to a mildly bewildered internal debate about the provenance of the phrase, with the Mafia members agreeing with one another on nothing except that he’s not right. Only on Reservation Dogs could Bear’s side-splittingly hilarious visions of the scene-stealing spirit guide co-exist with the partly-terrifying, partly-inspiring Deer Lady. The memory alone of the sequence in ‘Satvrday’ where the guide tells Bear, Vision… out, walks the wrong way to get to his next vision, swears as he realizes his mistake, and walks back makes me laugh again.

Gary Farmer is just as excellent as Uncle Brownie as he was in Resident Alien . The uncle-brother is introduced in ‘Uncle Brownie’, and despite all the humour, it’s not an episode to be taken lightly. (Despite the nauseating resolution of the subplot about the dead deer, too.)

One of the most endearing qualities of the show is how good-natured everyone is: everyone knows everyone else, to some degree, and recognizes that they’re struggling as well. Everyone just tries to do their best, be good to each other, and get along. The Dogs might want to fight the Indian Mafia, but for both sides, the (very relaxed) chase is more exciting than anything else—no proper confrontation ever manifests, even after the Mafia assault Bear. On the contrary, Bear even exults over White Steve’s rapping in the church and sincerely congratulates him, seemingly having forgotten the entire conflict. Kenny pops up again and again, but as strangely sinister as he might be, he doesn’t harm a hair on anyone’s head that we know of.

‘What About Your Dad’ and ‘Come and Get Your Love’ are outstanding even by the show’s standards. The two episodes elevate the entire cast by deftly navigating pathos, humour, unease, sadness, and muted heartbreak with authenticity and nary a stumble. Not even each scene but each moment is imbued with exactly the tone it requires, yet the emphasis is always on the story, not the telling. That’s how the show can introduce Bear’s would-be successful rapper father to lightly ridicule the stereotype, make it clear he’s going to let his son down right from the start, and still break our hearts with Bear’s by the end of the episode.[1] Meanwhile, in the next episode, Big goes from a one-note joke to a person in his own right.

The finale offers no closure. Instead, it’s one more excellent dose of what we’ve come to expect… mostly. I was completely overcome with laughter at the ultimate battle—so to speak—between the Dogs and the Mafia, what with Bear aggressively snuffing out the candle in Jackie’s face and nodding earnestly when Cheese gives her the finger, on top of the Why are we using candles? preceding all of it. Good on Uncle Brownie for saving everyone. (The flattened tyres at the end were a nice touch.) I can’t believe Elora really, truly abandons Bear, though, and with his sworn enemy at that.

Perhaps the weakest episode is ‘California Dreamin’ ’, and then only because it’s more reflective and contemplative than forward-looking.

  1. I am thoroughly impressed by how the catchy, idiotic jingle ‘Greasy Frybread’—which I relished, hearing it right after a meal of chhole bhature—transforms into an aching acoustic lament for the closing credits.