‘Reservation Dogs’ Season 2, Episode 5 Recap: ‘Wide Net’
We are officially halfway through this season of Reservation dogs and the show really feels like it’s in full swing. After a deeply compelling first season, collective expectations were high, but it seems that at every opportunity, the Rez Dogs go above and beyond.
Now that we’ve gotten to know the show’s characters, the show strives to make the world they inhabit feel alive and full. Stylistically, the show is spreading its wings with more unique setups and elaborate sets. The first five episodes also laid the thematic groundwork for this season – everyone in the village feels lost, caught up in the storm of change happening all around them. So far, we’ve seen a few brief glimpses of how all the adults around are handling things, like the final episode of Teenie during Mabel’s wake or seeing Daniel’s father come to terms with the loss of his son. (Daniel is the Rez Dog who took his own life last season, seriously jeopardizing the gang’s plan to get to Cali.) This episode draws more attention to the burdens Native women are often forced to carry, in an invisible and thankless way, at the service of their communities.
Rita heads to a conference with Bev and Natalie, two of her IHS (Indian Health Services) colleagues, as well as her cousin Teenie, who has only recently returned to the reservation. Rita is initially hesitant to leave Bear alone considering all the recent events, such as his new job as a roofer, the whole “being dumped by his best friend” thing, and because he’s still dealing with the loss of several important members of the community. Bev (Jackie’s caring aunt, played by Jana Schmieding, star of the equally brilliant native-run show Rutherford Falls) eventually convinces her, but not without first making questionable comments about Rita and Bear. Because Rita got pregnant with Bear when she was still quite young, she chose to sacrifice some of her own dreams by becoming a mother (“I told everyone I was going to New York and smoke cigarettes on a fire escape”, Rita later admits to her potential hiccup at the conference). Bev half-jokingly assures Rita that Bear will “make a great teenage dad”, but it’s clear from Rita’s response that she wants something different for her child, hence her tendency to keep an eye out. very attentive to the boy.
The four women go to the conference and are immediately ensnared by a promising young doctor Sam (played by Tatanka Means, a Navajo/Lakota/Dakota/Omaha actor and comedian who will soon appear on the big screen in Martin Scorsese The Moonflower Slayers). Rita makes the first move towards him, and after a short flirtation by the pool, it seems the two are starting to hit it off. The young doctor seems to want to “honor the matriarchs” and work in the community, which excites Rita even more.
The four aunts decide that maybe a good vape the low along with some medicinal herbs will give them the power they need to find the lovers they seek. However, it doesn’t seem like the coochie drug is strong enough, especially when combined with alcohol and edibles. Before Rita can perform her final play on Sam, she sees what she thinks is a younger “niece”, though it remains ambiguous whether Sam is actually interested in someone else.
Fortunately, Bev, Teenie and Natalie are there to support Rita, as they always have. In the episode’s cold-open flashback, we see a few tiny versions of the aunts, along with Cookie (Elora’s mother who died in a car crash over a decade ago), dancing together to “Sitting Up in My Room” by Brandy. The big centerpiece of the episode is when the adult aunts perform the dance together at the conference mixer. The punch line? All the impressive choreography is in the heads of the women. In reality, they moonwalked without shoes on the now almost empty dance floor. (The devil really is in the details of this track. It’s fantastic.)
Ruined and hurt by her lost dream of finding herself a “Doctor Daddy”, Rita expresses herself a little too unfiltered at Teenie, singling her out as the group’s only non-mother. In a backhanded compliment, Rita posits that Teenie has more freedom than the others because she’s not a mother, to which Teenie replies, “Do you think that’s easier? … You don’t know what I have to face. That’s when Rita goes straight for the jugular, blaming Teenie for “bailing them out” after Cookie’s death. There are deep parallels between the Rita/Teenie dynamic and the one that develops between Bear and Elora, and each of these characters speaks to a larger dynamic of off-ground/ground experiences within Indigenous communities. There are many reasons why people choose to leave while others choose to stay, and the pressures to look their best are further compounded by the fact that much of mainstream American culture has stereotyped life in reservations as hopeless.
Fortunately, Teenie and Rita cross paths in the bathroom and manage to reconcile their differences. Rita’s quiet admission that she wishes she could “feel sexy again” is heartbreaking. Both women believe that Indigenous women are put on pedestals by the community… to the detriment of people who recognize us as human beings. But, of course, that’s why Indigenous women celebrate and support each other — because sometimes no one else does. The two are then shown posted in their hotel bed together snacking and watching forensic television, and, while it’s not the romance that Rita sought to find, that kind of love that the aboriginal women offer themselves is equally important.
The voices of Indigenous women have long been actively suppressed in much of mainstream American culture, and so the themes of this episode are particularly timely. For example, it was only last week that the Academy finally issued an apology to Sacheen Littlefeather, who many may know as the Apache and Yaqui activist who turned down an Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando at the Oscars of 1973. In an interview, Littlefeather alleges that John Wayne attempted “to physically assault and take [her] off stage. Littlefeather was a young Indigenous activist suddenly thrust into the spotlight during a time of high Indigenous visibility – the Brando event occurred just four years after Indigenous students and Bay Area community members occupied Alcatraz Island for 19 months and the 1973 Oscars. aired amid the Wounded Knee occupation, both widely televised events in the media. As a result of her efforts to raise awareness of Indigenous issues, Littlefeather was largely shunned from the film industry. And the Academy’s failure to collectively address this incident has sent the message that Indigenous women must remain silent and inflexible if they are to take their place in popular media.
In 1975, two years after Littlefeather’s Oscar appearance, scholar Rayna Green published an article titled “The Pocahontas Perplex: The Image of Indian Women in American Culture”, which exposed America’s obsession with depictions of youth, quiet Indigenous women. There, Green would argue that Indigenous women are “burdened by an image that can only be understood as dysfunctional…of being ‘good,’ she [the Indigenous woman] must deny his own people, exile himself from them, become white and perhaps suffer death. Indigenous women have long been sexualized and exoticized in mainstream media, with characters like Pocahontas strategically deployed to represent the land “surrendering” in service of manifest destiny. In most westerns, native female characters live only long enough to sacrifice themselves for their white lover (M. Elise Marubbio’s Kill the Indian girl details many examples of this stereotype), or if they get old, they are only destined to become the butt of the joke (see Researchers). Hell, it’s only been two years since Land O’Lakes butter removed an image of an Indigenous woman from its packaging, its logo depicting a young Indigenous woman with her hands outstretched in undying generosity. (Uh, of course.)
And, more troublingly, similar pressures are also coming from within Indigenous communities. Indigenous women are often elevated as matriarchs and mother figures, but this can also lead to them being pigeonholed into performing a narrow set of “acceptable” roles. To this day, some powwows (inter-tribal Aboriginal cultural dance gatherings) still require their young royal wives to affirm that they have never dated anyone, denying young mothers access to these esteemed positions. Indigenous women who are caught between all of these intersecting expectations must simultaneously push back against colonialism and patriarchy, but if they do, they risk being branded “untraditional” or even “traitors” for speaking out against harmful communal protocols. . In Reservation Dogs, Rita and Teenie end up taking different paths, each demanding their own sacrifices. Both should be equally celebrated and uplifted. This Reservation dogs manages to cover all this ground in just over 20 minutes is nothing short of amazing, and all credit goes to this episode’s writer-director Tazbah Rose Chavez for her effort!
• The two subplots of this episode are Natalie who ends up reconnecting with both from her of them exes (yeehaw to represent various relationship configurations, y’all) as well as Bobby Lee’s Dr. Kang character (who first appeared in the first season IHS episode meat-pie-stand, where this segment of the recap gets its namesake) playing the role of the non-native stranger navigating his way to his first snag. Lee performs well as the butt of the joke, with the pimple of the episode being his nearly naked, hickey-covered run around the hotel.