Elora Danan Postoak (Devery Jacobs) becomes frustrated with Bear Smallhill’s (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai) childish antics.
In Reservation Dogs Season One Episode Four, ” What About Your Dad,” directed by Sydney Freeland, Native American rapper Punkin Lusty (Sten Jodi), a.k.a. Bear’s deadbeat father sends both his son and his “baby mama” Rita Smallhill (Sarah Podemski) into a tailspin. The Native American council members in charge of a health awareness fair invite Bear’s dad Punkin to rap about frybread for their opening festival. Ironic since frybread is usually deep-fried in lard or oil. Not a healthy treat. Rita, frustrated over dealing with her flakey ex-boyfriend, heads off the bar to find a decent man. Elora hates how Bear spends all of their “California” money buying expensive gifts for a father he barely knows. Bear buys Punkin a beadwork necklace of a microphone that looks like a penis. Punkin doesn’t even show up for his gig, meaning the ugly piece was, even more, a waste of money. ” Gang” leader Jackie (Elva Guerra) offers Elora a spot in her group, promising to take her to California. Will Elora choose her friends or her dream to leave rural Oklahoma? Both Native American women carry the weight for the men in their orbit whose heads live in the clouds.
Rita feels exhausted having to raise Bear by herself without any meaningful support from Punkin. At this point in Rita’s life, she feels split between desiring to be this strong independent Native American woman and fantasizing about marrying a wealthy doctor who can co-parent Bear. “What About Your Dad” illustrates her two sides through the “angel and devil on your shoulders” motif. The only issue with this motif in Reservation Dogs is that the differences between Rita’s two opposing voices in her head are too subtle. The motif of Rita’s opposing voices is so subtle the device becomes uninteresting. They even appear similar. The three Ritas wear the same outfit at one point. The two alter egos give Rita the same advice to have breakfast with Dr. David at his mansion.
Reservation Dogs has its first ” White Problematic Man” scene in the fourth episode. At first, Rita is in heaven walking around David’s (Garrett Hedlund) classic mansion, looking at all these expensive art pieces. After smelling bacon, Rita sits down for breakfast with him. David keeps on getting better and better in her eyes. David is a doctor who owns his grandfather’s mansion, a father who understands teenagers, a hunter, and an archer. Rita’s dream falls apart when David pulls up his sleeves. Rita notices a confederate flag and feather tattoo on his arm.
She appears bemused when she asks about the tattoo. David blurts out that he loves “Indians.” David explains that his grandfather bought the land from an impoverished Cree man. The grandfather most likely took advantage of the Native American’s desperation. He “allowed” the Cree man to live on the land, probably in sub-standard housing, though the Cree man could visit the “big house.” Not seeing the toxic nature of what he is saying, David continues to dig himself a hole. He tells Rita that he has a Lakota friend who he texts daily. The old I can’t be racist because of my Native American friend’s trope. Rita’s eyes widen when David explains that he desires “Native women,” essentially fetishizing them. Rita realizes that he sees her as an object of desire rather than a complex human being.
Rita imagines a nightmarish scene after learning David’s family history. In her nightmare, David dresses like a plantation master smoking a pipe and is surrounded by Native American servants. One of the servants pours some lemonade for David. He loves the taste. David asks what sort of exotic “Indian” herb is in the lemonade. The young woman explains it’s mint. Master David asks, ” Is that all?” He desires something more “exotic.” Rita runs off. Her unwillingness to be fetishized is fortifying, but I wish she had confronted David. Instead, Rita says it’s her, not him. David thinks his tattoo is the issue, not realizing how his whole history oppresses her people.
Watch FX’s Reservation Dogs Season One on Hulu!