Ideally, the shot-in-Oklahoma series “Reservation Dogs” will go out on top.
In the meanwhile, characters from the show are going camping.
Sterlin Harjo announced in July that season three would be a farewell journey for the critically acclaimed and groundbreaking series.
The second half of season three began Wednesday with the release of “Frankfurter Sandwich,” a camping episode directed by Blackhorse Lowe. “Reservation Dogs” is fueled by an all-Indigenous cast and creative team. Lowe is a Tulsa Artist Fellow from the Navajo Nation who splits time between Oklahoma and New Mexico.
The events in the episode are described by one of the characters as “operation nephew rescue.” Cheese (Lane Factor) is one of four primary young cast members in the series. Cheese has been spending too much time indoors, so the “uncles” from the series embark on a mission to introduce him to fishing, nature and camping. The uncles are Brownie (Gary Farmer), Bucky (Wes Studi) and tribal officer Big (Zahn McClarnon).
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Lowe called it a beautiful episode and said he was blown away by the writing. Bobby Wilson and Harjo are credited as writers of the episode. Wilson also wrote a Cheese-centric (“Stay Gold, Cheesy Boy”) episode directed by Lowe in season two.
The newest episode sort of parallels the events of the flashback episode that preceded it, according to Lowe. In the flashback episode, a teen version of Maximus is set on a path to break away from his peer group. In the new episode, Cheese has been isolating himself from everyone, including Rez Dog pals Willie Jack, Bear and Elora Danan.
“The former friends of Maximus, Bucky and Brownie, they see what is happening and they realize they don’t want the same thing to happen to Cheese that happened to Maximus,” Lowe said in a phone interview. “It’s a matter of kind of bringing him back in the fold and showing him what’s up.”
“These men come up to help him and it turns out that this young kid is the one who kind of unlocks all these feelings of guilt and remorse within all of them,” Lowe said. “They have this beautiful moment of just forgiving themselves and just really kind of breaking through and understanding these emotions and the complexities they have and the ties they have with family members and friends and how much this community really affects them.”
Lowe said it’s a fantastic episode because it’s very much a classic type of Rez Dogs episode.
“You are in the woods. You are hanging around and wandering. But there’s so many more things that are going on at a deeper level and a spiritual level and a psychological level. There are so many other things there. It’s very simple, but it’s very complex at the same time. And it was such a fun episode to have all those extremely talented actors and to have young Lane Factor there kind of going toe-to-toe with Wes and Gary and Zahn. It was really good times.”
Lowe has directed six “Reservation Dogs” episodes (two in each season), including the episodes that introduced Uncle Brownie and Deer Lady. He wrote and directed “This is Where the Plot Thickens” in season two.
“Just having this kind of show is something new and refreshing,” Lowe said. “It’s really kind of taking peoples’ ideas of who Native people are and just turning that on its head and really showing them who we are and how complex we are and how funny we are.”
Part of the series’ uniqueness is its ability to switch gears from episode to episode or scene to scene. It throws curveballs — in a good way. Some sequences make you laugh. Others tug on your emotions. And some episodes spotlight characters other than the core Rez Dogs.
For instance, the fifth episode this season was set in the 1970s and features young versions of the show’s elders. On social media, some fans compared the episode to a Native version of “Dazed and Confused.” The episode looked like the 1970s, right down to fashion statements and a View Master on a shelf in a boarding school dorm room. Lowe said the production designer “just went above and beyond.”
Preparation for the episode included a showing of the 1971 film “Two-Lane Blacktop” for members of the Rez Dogs crew. The movie was screened for its ‘70s vibe “and to really help us kind of figure out what the aesthetic was and just the breadth of how we were going to deliver this episode. Everyone went really above and beyond what they were supposed to do. The episode was great. It was just so fun to really work within that palette of the ‘70s and kind of redefine the boarding school experience, especially coming from the Deer Lady episode, which was very heavy.”
While providing a spot-on portrayal of modern-day Natives and rural Oklahoma, the series also has supernatural and extraterrestrial characters. Dalton Cramer, who debuted as Daniel in the series, is the alien in episode five. That’s Harjo wearing a Bigfoot suit in episode six. It wasn’t his first time in the Bigfoot suit, according to Lowe.
UFO-fascinated Maximus is a new character this season. Maximus debuted in the second episode and was played by Graham Greene, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his work in “Dancing With Wolves.” Viewers may have guessed after the introductory episode that Maximus would be a one-and-done character, but episodes since have revealed him to be essential to season three developments.
Lowe said he is out of the loop on how the series will end because he has not read screenplays for episodes other than the ones he directed. He is looking forward to seeing what will happen in remaining episodes.
Thankful to be a part of “Reservation Dogs,” Lowe said Harjo and co-creator Taika Waititi have busted open doors for Indigenous creatives in the industry. From key grips all the way to writers, directors and actors, a gateway was opened.
“All of us have been struggling for so long to break into the system, and it is now finally happening,” Lowe said. “Now we are just trying to do the same and continue to help other filmmaker friends and other artists get up into this level of the game. I am always just completely appreciative of what Sterlin and Taika did. It has really changed my life, and I am so, so happy about it.”
“Reservation Dogs” of course has a big fan base in Oklahoma. Those fans will be sad to see the show go away. Lowe understands that, but respects Harjo for wanting to go out while on top.
“I have a huge amount of love for Oklahoma and the people of Oklahoma, especially the supporters of the show,” Lowe said. “It would not be possible without that support and that love. That’s what I love about that show is it’s all about community support and everything else. It’s all there in the show, what this is all about and what we are all about. Hopefully that positivity will continue to spread and grow and more things will come from it.”
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