Reservation Dogs pays every gag in its season finale

Small but moving moments in previous episodes pay off in a season finale that concludes Reservation Dogs’ first big arc.

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Reservation Dogs Season 1, Episode 8, “Satvrday,” now streaming on FX on Hulu.

Dogs Reservation concludes its first season with a tightly woven bow around its theme of life after bereavement. Its finish is sober but powerful, bringing back guest characters and knotting the threads of the plot. Like in all the other episodes, the laughter mixes with the heartbreak, but here it feels like some things are final. When a tornado leaves the Oklahoma reservation it may not have destroyed homes, but the status quo is not the same, and friendships may not end, but they have changed.

The rivalry between the Dogs and a group called the NDN Mafia comes to a head as Uncle Brownie’s warnings about a tornado bear fruit. Their fight must stop because most of the city retreats into a shelter within the local church. It’s a clever move that brings the characters together to interact in new and organic ways. The Mafia are quick to remind the dogs that the weather-imposed truce is fragile, threatening to reveal to Officer Big who actually took the snack truck stolen from Res Dog’s first heist.

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Agent Big later shares conspiracy videos on his phone with Leon, Willie Jack’s father, creating an unlikely bond between these men. Mose and Mekko then engage in a rap battle against each other, but White Steve, a calm but rap-ready member of the Mafia team, came out of his first place. However, it’s Willie Jack inside the shelter and Uncle Brownie outside that bookend at the heart of what’s going on.

Brownie and Officer Big discuss tornado in Reservation Dogs

Willie Jack uses the love she has for her parents to finally talk about what the small town has been avoiding for a year. Daniel’s suicide affected almost everyone in different but important ways, and the associated grief and guilt deeply hurt his family. With his declaration of love for them and his refusal to leave town, Willie Jack shows signs of healing. Of all the dogs, Willie Jack was the first to come to terms with his grief and move on.

Cheese backs Willie Jack in his decision, splitting the Dogs in half. He is the quietest member of the Dogs, and his response to Daniel’s death has remained unexplored, but his kind heart may mean he has absorbed the grief as healthily as possible. It’s a series of important emotional turns, even as the stress makes Dogs as a group never be the same again.

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On the outside, Brownie’s faith in her medicine offers a humorous look at faith and courage. He might be an old man with a questionable weed, but his heart is in the right place and he’s determined to save his city in his own way. This too pays a returned dividend. Dogs Reservation has no problem accepting their culture and faith without needing to question it too much. Brownie’s encounter with Bear’s dubious spirit guide after the storm pays off, as someone had to step in and fight for the heart of this small town.

So much love and care has been incorporated into this bittersweet season finale, slowly and methodically revealing the damage heartbreak can do. Daniel’s death did the one thing he probably would never have wanted, to separate his friends. It also brings the city together in a celebration of survival. The tornado did some damage, but it’s nothing of the time and the investment will not resolve in a season to come.

Created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, Reservation Dogs releases new episodes every Monday on FX on Hulu.

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