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Over three magical seasons, FX’s Reservation Dogs has not only delivered side-splitting moments of laughter, but it’s also packed plenty of emotional gut punches. Themes like grief, loneliness, guilt, and stepping into adulthood come out of nowhere to slap audiences with a hefty dose of reality. In the latest episode, “Frankfurter Sandwich,” the elder men (and Cheese) take center stage in a heartfelt episode surrounding culture, belonging, tradition, and what it means to be a man. In an interview with Collider’s Chase Hutchinson, director Blackhorse Lowe opened up about the creation of these very delicate and touching moments – specifically the tearful group share at the campsite.
One of the most beautiful things about Reservation Dogs is how it seamlessly weaves between comedy and drama. Lowe revealed that while they went the emotional route that we see in the final cut, there were also takes in which Bucky (Wes Studi), Brownie (Gary Farmer), and Big (Zahn McClarnon) “never stop laughing” and others in which they “never stop crying.” And, while forming such a moving scene seems like it would’ve posed a challenge, the filmmaker said that he simply explained what he needed and when, and the actors made it work. “It was just an understanding of how heavy the emotion would be, whether it’s comical, whether it’s real, whether it’s very understated, what was that fine-tuning thing? The great actors that they are, they gave me a range of those three different levels.”
In the heartstring-pulling moment, Cheese (Lane Factor) and the three elders are sitting in a circle at their campsite following a day of fishing and bonding. Flipping the tables and bringing out their softer side, Cheese leads a sharing exercise with the others that ends in a flood of tears. To get to the explosive emotional moment, the director said that he tapped into the actors’ roots. “Since we’re Native, and we have these experiences in certain ceremonies, depending on their tribal affiliation, to a certain degree, they all come back down to the same emotional experience… which is basically what you saw, which is a combo of starting from something very light and happy and being standoffish, but then slowly all those things start chipping away, and all of a sudden you’re just left with three grown men just crying, bawling their eyes out right before Lane.” Watching the actors let their emotions run freely, “was a beautiful thing,” says Lowe, adding that there was a deep level of understanding and trust between him and the four actors of how the scene would play out.
The Emotional Side of Reservation Dogs
From the jump, Reservation Dogs has had no problem when flipping from a comedic story of a group of over-the-top personalities to breaking us down into puddles of tears. Within the very first episode of the premiere season, viewers learned about the main crew’s deceased friend Daniel (Dalton Cramer), and for the remainder of the series, we’ve watched as Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), Cheese (Lane Factor), Elora (K. Devery Jacobs), and Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis) have dealt with that loss. There’s also been heavy loss in all the other characters’ lives, whether that be from the death of Daniel or other family members and friends. With only four episodes left before the series comes to an end, there’s bound to be some more emotional moments on the way.