If there’s one theme that’s run through much of Reservation Dogs, it’s the perils and promises of aimlessness. Of youth’s aimlessness. Or rather, of the aimlessness of youth. For the likes of Bear and Elora and Cheese and Willie Jack, their driftless days play backdrop to some of their most engaging (mis)adventures. But their lives, as they’re slowly growing older and into themselves, start drifting toward something. Aimlessness cannot sustain them. It’s why the uncles and aunties around them keep nudging them toward making choices for themselves about their futures—lest they find themselves, decades later, unaware of all the choices they once had.
But I kept thinking of said aimlessness when, in “Wahoo!,” we’re called to follow not our teenage protagonists but Rita (Sarah Podemski), Bear’s mother, as she has to make a decision as to how she wants to (re)orient her life in the months, if not years, ahead. For, despite her initial fears, her boss isn’t right at her desk to give her the bad news of her firing. Instead, he’s there to deliver some great news: There are two IHS positions that she’d be perfect for. Only they’re away from Okern: One’s in Oklahoma City; the other’s in Albuquerque.
As Rita begins pondering what such a change in scenery (and salary) would mean for herself and Bear, she finds she has a visitor: Cookie (JaNae Collins), Elora’s mom. Don’t worry, though, she’s not a ghost. (“Ghosts are dumb!”) She’s a spirit. And yes, that does mean that seeing spirits runs in the family. But why is Cookie suddenly showing up at her friend’s house hoping to play Wahoo?
If you’re Rita, you’re in no mood to find out. You just wait her out in Bear’s room and then try to have Bev squeeze you into a quick therapy session where you hope you’ll be reassured you’re not losing your marbles. (Instead, she gets arguably the most bonkers version of intro to Native trauma 101 you could ever imagine.) And so, eventually, just as we’d seen Bear do time and time again with William Knifeman, she eventually relents and gives into what her old friend wants. Which is, really, to play Wahoo—even if it is just an excuse to ask about Bear and, more pressingly, Elora.
And so, armed with Cookie in tow (Cookie proves t0 be quite a quippy spirit—just watch her tell Rita all about Big and Bev), Rita visits Elora. She may be frazzled at first, but it’s soon obvious that what she’s there for is the thing that comes most naturally to her: to mother. She learns Elora is thinking of going to college, and she doesn’t even have to think twice about what to tell her: Her mother would be proud of her.
That’s all Cookie wanted. To have her friends check in on her daughter. To mother her in the way she never could. But the experience also serves as a reminder that Rita can serve as a guidance to others by living the life she can for herself. It’s why she agrees to take the job, to take the plunge into a different kind of life, even if that one is away from all she’s known. There are those like Cookie who never got a chance to fulfill their own wishes and desires, whose aimlessness now is not of their choice. Better to give shape to your life with a better job and better prospects miles and miles away from everything you’ve ever known.
Rita’s decision feels like a helpful turn for the series since it’ll no doubt have repercussions for Bear and Elora—not just in their day-to-day life, but in the kind of futures each of them can now dream up for themselves.
The episode ends with a lovely coda, wherein Cookie’s old friends gather around and pay tribute in hopes of releasing her, remembering how much she meant to them and reassuring her that they (and Elora, especially) will be okay, will be at peace. Now let’s hope Rita will relent and allow Bev to make her a Tinder profile.
- This episode was directed by Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs, a.k.a. Elora herself. And what an assured directorial outing it is, carefully balancing the thorny tonal shifts required to make a vivacious twenty-year old spirit visiting her old friend into an equally funny and touching half hour.
- “We are Native. We have trauma.” This may have been the funniest line of this entire season so far. Actually, Rita’s squeezed in session with Larry—which devolved into an elucidation of trauma via the motion picture La Bamba and a possible vision of Lou Diamond Phillips (as a welder)—was arguably the one scene this episode that had me laughing out loud. Both for its absurdity and for its spot-on satirizing of the way storytellers (ahem, Hollywood, perhaps?) can’t help but trot out the T word whenever any Native storyline comes across the screen. Also, what a joy Evan Adams brought to this scene; where’s his In Treatment-like spin-off?
- Love seeing Willie Jack continuing her training to take over Old Man Fixico’s stand. She clearly has a knack for it.
- What recipe was Bear trying (and failing) to recreate from TikTok and how disgusting do we think his first attempt was?
- Is this yet another instance where I’ll sing the praises of Jana Schmieding? She’s turned Bev into such a scene-stealing wonder that I find myself more and more looking forward to her scenes to watch her turn a side eye glance or a wide-eyed glare into comedic gold.
- I have to single out Sarah Podemski’s lovely, textured work in this episode. Reservation Dogs has slowly but surely colored in the many nooks and crannies of its extended universe. And “Wahoo!” was a fitting ode to world-weary Rita, who finally gets to be more than Bear’s mom and who gets to play more than exasperated auntie. Watching Podemski try and find the fine balance between the absurdity of what Rita’s doing (ordering fried catfish for a spirit, say) and the hurt of what she’s finding out about her friend and herself in the process, is quite touching—a rare gift the show keeps giving us and its characters week in and week out. It’ll make parting with them all all the harder.