Is ‘Reservation Dogs’ a groundbreaking TV show with a flawless finale?

Reservation Dogs has made its mark in TV history with a note-perfect finale that solidifies its place as a groundbreaking show. The series, which concluded its run on FX and is now available for streaming on Hulu, has always dealt with heavy themes of grief and loss. From the very beginning, the teenage protagonists of Reservation Dogs were mourning the death of their friend Daniel, who died by suicide a year prior. Throughout three seasons, the show highlighted that the foursome were not alone in their pain and that the whole community was grappling with the weight of their own losses.

The finale episode, titled “Dig,” takes a poignant approach by centering around a funeral. Old Man Fixico, the medicine man who had agreed to mentor Willie Jack, passes away, and Okern comes together to bid him farewell. Reservation Dogs has always been about more than just the main characters’ stories; it has explored the interconnectedness of the community as a whole. In a midseason flashback episode, the show even paid homage to “Dazed and Confused” by showcasing the carefree youth of today’s elders, including Fixico. As the series reaches its conclusion, it emphasizes that everyone is faced with similar crossroads, where the innocence of youth fades into the responsibilities of adulthood.

The showrunner, Sterlin Harjo, who co-wrote and directed the finale, beautifully reinforces this theme in “Dig.” While Reservation Dogs has always relied on humor rather than heavy-handed drama, the finale takes a chance to explicitly convey what the characters have been demonstrating all along. In one scene, Willie Jack visits a prison to inform Hokti, her aunt and Daniel’s mother, about Fixico’s passing. At the urging of some spirits, Hokti delivers a powerful monologue about the importance of community ties.

Hokti explains that although it may feel like Fixico is gone, his presence lives on in the memories of his loved ones. She uses a bag of Flamin’ Flamers, the junk food the Rez Dogs stole in the pilot episode, as a visual representation of these memories. She emphasizes that community is expansive and significant, and attempts to break it only result in breaking individuals. This heartfelt speech acts as a grace note, connecting individual experiences to collective struggles without losing the specificity of each character’s story.

“Reservation Dogs” never sets out to provide grand solutions for the systemic challenges faced by Indigenous communities, such as attempted genocide and poverty. Instead, the show focuses on the interconnectedness of relationships within the community. In its final season, it directly depicts the historical traumas experienced by its characters, particularly through the story of a young Deer Lady at a Native boarding school. However, the emphasis remains on the subjective and surreal, highlighting the characters’ personal journeys and transformations.

The finale, “Dig,” successfully bridges the gap between grand statements and intimate storytelling. Watching the Reservation Dogs simply hang out and navigate their own legacies is a testament to their friendship and resilience. The stakes feel high, and the final shots of the series, including a comedic moment of Big struggling to zip his fly, remind us of the complexities of life.

The true final moments of the show feature the Reservation Dogs enjoying their last moments together before Elora heads off to college, followed by a glimpse of an older quartet of friends. Maximus, who had been estranged from Fixico, is brought back into the fold as the Rez Dogs accompany him during his final moments. The show underscores the importance of bearing witness to the experiences of others, be it friends, elders, or future generations. In the face of the inevitable, taking it all in is both the least and the most we can do.

In its finale, “Reservation Dogs” delivers a moving display of emotion during Fixico’s funeral. However, it is the friends’ silent presence and satisfaction that truly send the show off in style. Through its unique blend of humor and heartfelt storytelling, “Reservation Dogs” has cemented its place in TV history and leaves a lasting impact on audiences.