In the seventh episode of the third season of Reservation Dogs, Rita, Bear’s mother, discovers her own ability for spiritualism as an old friend pays her a surprise visit.
Rita is working at the Okern International Health Services center when she is surprised by her supervisor. She thinks she’s getting fired when in actuality, he went over to deliver great news that there are two IHS positions that offer higher salaries she’d be perfect for.
On top of that, they’d love to have her apply for those jobs. Thing is, they’re in Oklahoma City and Albuquerque.
She has to make a choice to move away if she wants higher pay and a better lifestyle. The choices are attractive but while she’s mulling them over, especially what she’ll tell Bear, a childhood friend of hers appears in her living room.
Reservation Dogs season 3, episode 7 recap: Cookie’s back
Problem is she’s been long dead. The visiting ghost is Cookie, the mother of Elora.
Cookie and her boyfriend Kyle were the ones that Big was talking about when he took Cheese out to the woods and cried over his failure to avert their deaths. You see, when Cookie and Kyle were out drinking and driving, Big saw them and pulled them over.
When the two saw who it was though they dismissed him, laughing it off as they drove away. As Big followed the speeding car, Kyle lost control and crashed the vehicle, killing both of them.
The surreality of having Cookie in front of Rita, just like Bear’s spirit guide friend, unnerves her. Cookie tells her friend she’s not a ghost, rather a spirit: “Always listen to spirits, but never ghosts. Ghosts are dumb!”
Reservation Dogs season 3, episode 7 recap: Spiritual board game
What exactly does spirit guide Cookie want? Well, for starters, she wants to play Wahoo with her old friend.
Wahoo is that board game that’s a cross and circle board like Parchisi. I have no idea how to play it, but it looks complex with what must be weird rules.
Cookie is a very upbeat and gossipy kind of spirit, I must say. She gives Rita the lowdown on what Big and Bev have been up to in the bedroom.
She also tells Rita that the talent to see spirits really just runs in some families. Still weirded out, Rita suspects she’s just stressed and tries to session it out with the clinic’s psychotherapist.
Turns out to be a bust. The therapist is more interested in telling her about his affinity for La Bamba than hearing out her possible mental issues.
Giving up, Rita point blank asks Cookie what she wants and tells her she’ll follow as told. It’s obvious though, as Cookie wants Rita to bring her to check up on her daughter Elora.
At their house, with Cookie in ectoplasmic tow, Rita learns that Elora has thoughts of going to college to eventually get out of Okern. Delighted, Rita tells the young girl that her mother would be proud of her.
And really, that’s all that Cookie really wants. To feel like she can still mother her child even from on high, or from the sidereal purgatory that spirits dwell at, and be of utility in the flesh and blood world.
Reservation Dogs season 3, episode 7 recap: A welcome haunting
The privilege of the restless dead, even in the Indian afterlife, is to haunt those they love. Cookie tells Rita that she has nowhere to go, since she can’t really mother Elora but also can’t move on.
She is literally neither here nor there. Crushed by the tears of her dead friend, Rita asks for advice from her son, asking him about how they let go of Daniel and his painful memory.
What did they do about Daniel when they got to California? This is where Bear, the son, mothers his mother, returning the favor of his own hard won wisdom from his adventures.
He tells her that it was only by going to the ocean, since that was what Daniel wanted, that they were collectively able to open their grips and release him into the waters.
Reservation Dogs season 3, episode 7 recap: The wisdom of the young
That scene with Rita cozying up to Bear in his bed, feels like a coup de grace of writing finesse. Literally the emotional equivalent of winning Wahoo, moving all of their own marbles around the board and into Home.
At the end of the episode, Rita rounds up her old gang, Bev and Nat (the ophthalmologist at the NDN clinic who gave Cheese his prescription glasses), and they go to the nearest bridge above the lake. They mix eulogized speech and physical rituals of letting go, like pitching Cookie’s mix tape into the waters.
It’s a great and nuanced ending to an episode with emotional peaks and valleys, balancing the often messy exorcism of liberating your memory of a loved one, with the prospect of an uncertain yet hopeful future. A great scene in this episode is the one where Rita asks for two orders of the catfish special from the diner, when it’s obvious she’s the only one there.
Apparently, you need to offer the food to the spirit so they can “eat.” The cook slash waiter tells Rita that it’s exactly what Bear does.
And we know it’s because of William Knifeman.
You can watch season 3 of Reservation Dogs on HULU.