For all its downbeat tones, “Reservation Dogs” feels as committed as ever to demonstrating its characters’ resilience in the face of adversity. In the two-part premiere, Willie Jack takes it upon himself to lift the curse with the help of Cheese’s crazy, weedy Uncle Brownie (Gary Farmeroutrageous as always) and his longtime rival Bucky (the legendary Wes Studio), a year-long feud punctuated with some ancient Navajo rituals and a full-on rendition of “Freefallin'” by the river.
Bear’s last-ditch attempt to get a job finds him spending the day with a pair of construction workers who beat him up with roofing and manhood. One is played by viral TikTok sensation Doggface (best known for skating down the road, chugging Ocean Spray and lip-syncing to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”), which is a nice enough cameo in its own right. But the other is Daniel’s father, who gives the couple a belated chance to collectively mourn the loved one they’ve lost and wonder what they could have done differently.
More than overcoming the systemic hardships of poverty, marginalization and anti-Native racism that so often permeate shows like these, “Reservation Dogs” is most interested in exploring what its characters will do about their hardships. Sometimes that means trying to escape for better weather. But season two seems to want to show the benefit of becoming a part of your community, improving it from within instead of running away from your problems.
The season’s fourth episode, set at Elora’s grandmother’s house in her dying days, is a good example of this. We see the whole town gathered in Mabel’s home, the women boiling corn juice and making coffee, the men enjoying the hours with cold beers in the living room. Jackie admits she’s never made fry bread before; the others teach her how. As Mabel experiences her final moments, her bedroom is filled with the tearful faces of everyone she loves. She takes her last breath, and her loved ones draw it down into their lungs. It’s an emotional episode that celebrates the indigenous women, young and old, who build and maintain these communities. (The attributions are a long list of dedications to Native women and artists who have died in recent years.)
That’s not to say the first season’s deadpan humor isn’t still here. It’s everywhere from Farmer’s grinning eccentric to the town’s sheriff Big (Zahn McClarnon; one wonders how his character here would fare alongside his stubborn tribal police chief from “Dark Winds”) who claims that aliens created humanity. Why would they do that? “Sex,” he replies matter-of-factly. Most importantly, Season 1 favorite William “Spirit” Knifeman (series writer Dallas Goldtooth), the spirit of one of Bear’s Lakota ancestors, is a more frequent presence this time around, ambushing Bear in Port-A-Potties and city streets to dispense half-baked Navajo wisdom amid bites of snacks and the occasional recitation of Kansas’ “Carry On My Wayward Son.”