TV

Deer Lady, Cookie, and the Many Spirits of Reservation Dogs


Cookie joins the ethereal network of helpers that makes Reservation Dogs one of TV’s most magically real experiences.

William Knifeman (Dallas Goldtooth) on Reservation Dogs.
Photo: Shane Brown | FX

This article contains spoilers for Reservation Dogs season 3 episode 7.

Many of the reductive cliches surrounding Indian culture often revolve around spirits. Concepts like spirit guides, spirit quests, and spirit animals are often memetic touchstones for crunchy white Americans looking for a way to make a psychedelic mushroom trip on a Tuesday sound more profound than it really is.

One of the best aspects of Reservation Dogs, FX’s brilliant dramedy about an indigenous community in Oklahoma, is how it both reclaims and refines the pop cultural depiction of Native American spirits. There are several ghosts, apparitions, and wayward souls wandering around Rez Dogs version of the American West. Sometimes the show satirizes the notion of spirit guides – mostly through the use of Bear’s ethereal companion William Knifeman, who is supposed to be teaching the boy worthwhile lessons but who really just seems to want a young friend.

What may have started as a simple joke about the pop culture prevalence of Indian spirit guides has quickly blossomed into something far richer. More often than not, the spirits of Reservation Dogs are ghostly imprints of a previous generation who just want what’s best for their relatives even as they find it as difficult to communicate what that means. The show’s approach to magical realism in having the souls of the past exist alongside the Sonic Drive-In-strewn landscape of the present make it one of television’s most touching and universal experiences.

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