Honestly, I’m surprised it took Reservation Dogs this long to make a 1970s-set flashback episode, but I will just be happy to savor the fact that we got it. Breaking away from the tone and style of the show (though playing with form has long been a hallmark of this FX gem), “House Made Of Bongs” goes full on Dazed And Confused to give us a stoner-comedy episode that illuminates the youthful indiscretions of many of the elders we’ve met through the course of the show’s three seasons—including one we only met a few episodes ago.
Remember Maximus? The loner, doomsday/Star People prepper Bear ran into a few episodes back as he was making his way back from California? We’d seen some familiar faces in his makeshift residence, and in “House Made of Bongs” we get to see how close-knit of a friend group he had in his teenage years. That included not only Irene and Mabel but the likes of Brownie and Bucky. Oh yes, even Fixico!
As a conceit, seeing what these grandmothers and uncles and all around elder figures got up to when they were the age of Bear, Elora, Cheese, and Willie is kind of fabulous. And, like the “Deer Lady” episode two weeks back, it allows the show to further expand on the Reservation Dogs world and offer a much more robust vision of Native life over the decades.
The year, then, is 1976.
Maximus, a movie aficionado who walks through the school’s hallways with a camera in hand hoping to capture everything around him (he has film-school aspirations; he could be the “Indian Peckinpah,” he’s told), is a bit of an odd duck. Even when he’s hanging out with his friends Irene, Mabel, Bucky, and Brownie, there’s an alienated air about him. Not just that he’s closed off from the world but a sense that he feels like an observer of his own life. He’s a wallflower who seems all the more comfortable being behind the camera rather than front and center.
He’s also perfectly okay avoiding confrontation: It’s why he really doesn’t want to get drugs from his cousin (Fixico). There’s been a rift between them, and he’s in no rush to fix it. And no, don’t for a second believe it’s about Fixico and Mabel breaking up. Though maybe that’s part of it, sure.
Framed as a stoner comedy and eventually moving toward an afternoon-into-late-night outing where our high-school teens will soon find their own consciousness altered by some LSD, the episode careens toward an origin story for the Maximus Bear meets all those decades later. But really, the most fun aspects of the episode come courtesy of seeing Mato Wayuhi, for instance, bringing his uncanny Wes Studi-as-Bucky impersonation...or watching Nathan Alexis nail a version of Teenage Brownie that brims with possibility. It’s a wistful way of expanding the stories of these elders, showing us what they once were and what they once hoped to become: Young Maximus wants to be a filmmaker; young Bucky is obsessed with quantum physics; and even Fixico has already found his calling as a Medicine Man (much to his cousin Maximus’ chagrin).
We know, of course, that only some of these dreams come to pass. And some, in fact, are dashed. The episode, in a way, asks us to suture those images of, say, Mabel caring and being cared for by Elora to that wide-eyed teenager who inches ever closer to Maximus throughout their trippy afternoon.
But our eyes are constantly focused on Maximus. How did this promising would-be director end up as a recluse who believes in planting eggplants for “star people” (aka aliens)?
Well, we soon find out. As everyone around him is tripping, Maximus (our designated driver) tries to stay awake as he drives in the middle of the night. Which is hard to do considering the mind-melding trip he’s on (and that’s before factoring in Bucky’s musings on quantum chromodynamics and the very essence of being and becoming). And so, when everyone’s pretty much asleep in the car and he stops to better observe the lights he notices right outside, he has no other witnesses to what he sees: a spaceship and an alien.
Director Blackhorse Lowe plays this moment as a Spielbergian dream: We’re in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind territory, with an alien that looks like it’s straight out of a 1950s B-movie. “I’m your relative,” he tells Maximus. It’s a line that freezes him in place, both for what it potentially tells him about the nature of existence but also for how it plays with his own struggles around belonging. (His lack of family, we learn, is one of the reasons he begrudges Fixico’s own popularity; his cousin takes for granted everything Maximus doesn’t and can’t have.)
It’s a bittersweet moment wrapped in genre storytelling—especially once, in the blink of an eye, the alien and their spaceship disappears all before anyone in the car can see it. What Maximus gets are snickers. He couldn’t possibly have seen an alien. He’s just tripping!
Given what we know of Maximus all those decades later, and his absence in Okern, it’s clear this moment became a turning point, a splintering episode that forever changed his life and his relationship with those around him. And it’s a testament to Reservation Dogs that such a nostalgia-tinged lo-fi sci-fi spectacle was delivered in one of the funniest episodes of the season so far, one that nimbly riffed on stoner comedies all while asking big questions about the nature of the universe in between LSD trips. Basically, it was Reservation Dogs at its most inventive.
- “Don’t be a shitass” is just all around a good mantra to live by, no?
- Love catching the blatant placement of “St. Nicholas Training School” sign following the “Deer Lady” episode earlier this season, which took place at St Nicholas Indian Training School. A nice, winking throwback.
- I was intrigued by quantum chromodynamics and yet attempting to read about it reminded me why I am much better suited for the humanities. (We can’t all be STEM kids.)
- Okay, but futuristic stick ball actually sounds like a cool would-be blockbuster, no?
- “How beautiful to never search for who you are. Everything you need is here.” Just a lovely lovely line.
- I enjoyed living in the youthful world of the elders we’ve grown to love, but it made me think that maybe we should also get an episode where we flash-forward to what Bear and his crew look like decades from now.