Reservation Dogs: Why Elora Is the Foundation of the FX Comedy - VRGyani News and Media

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Thursday, September 30, 2021

Reservation Dogs: Why Elora Is the Foundation of the FX Comedy

[Editor's note: The following contains spoilers through the Season 1 finale of Reservation Dogs, "Satvrday."]

Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi’s Reservation Dogs — centering on four indigenous teenagers trying to raise money to escape to California — thrives because of its mix of a strong ensemble that also still puts the spotlight on each core member of the series. The group hangs out, cracks jokes, and discusses their future and their reasons to leave Oklahoma together. Meanwhile, they also have their own episodes to either spend with their families — like Willie Jack’s (Paulina Alexis) hunting trip with her father, or Bear’s (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai) conversations with his mom — or interact with the other people living in their Oklahoma community.

With that said, one character plays a foundational role in maintaining the show’s ideals. That is Elora Danan (Devery Jacobs), the one who wants to leave the reservation the most. Throughout the first season, her struggles with grieving for their friend, Daniel (Dalton Cramer) while coping with her roots punctuate the core issues of the series.

The whole series is set a year after Daniel died in what is later revealed to be a suicide. Elora was not only one of the last characters to see Daniel alive, but she also found his body — during that last night, Daniel made a point of asking Elora if she wanted to go to California with him. She laughed at first, then agreed after Daniel says he’s “always wanted to go.”

This is why she's now so determined to raise the money to leave Oklahoma to head west: For Daniel. And for herself. Daniel’s family is shown in the series as constantly fighting, with Daniel saying that he cannot “go home” because of said fact. Elora has the opposite issue, as her mom is dead and she lives with her grandma, who never speaks to her. She only learns how her mom died from her former basketball coach (Bill Burr) after a driver’s license test goes awry.

Her only other family left is her Uncle Brownie (Gary Farmer) whom she sees every so often for an occasional word of wisdom. (Although, she does look up to her uncle for both advice and for tutelage, namely, to help Bear learn to fight.) She indulges her uncle's old school behavior and his issues with a contemporary lifestyle because he is a connection to her past, patiently listening to his advice and never forcing him to tell her about her mom, after he admits that talking about her makes him cry. She still hangs out with him after the fact to help him sell his old cannabis that no one wants in favor of dispensaries.

Otherwise, her closest family is her friends. They share the joyful memories of Daniel walking around the reservation and playing basketball, and have a shared culture that would be hard to find in California or anywhere else. This pushes Elora to want to bring the rest of her friends out West, to the point that she serves as the literal foundation of the group as the leader of the Rez Dogs. Elora is the one serving as the getaway driver when they steal the truck. She also raises the most money amongst the group — whether that comes from their jobs or her own solo missions at a casino. She calls out the other members of her group for not taking their travel seriously, especially when Bear goes out of his way to buy phallic jewelry to impress his father.

That moment leads to the first fight between Elora and Bear: She calls him out for spending “her money” on his new outfit. Bear corrects her saying that it is “our money” to which Elora responds by saying that it is “our money for California,” not Bear’s “stupid dad fantasy.” When Elora speaks up, Willie Jack and Cheese (Lane Factor) immediately stop joking around and Bear loses his hyped grin.

Elora is frustrated not just because she wants to leave for California, but she wants her friends to come along with her — so she understandably gets frustrated when they are not taking their trip as seriously as her. At the same time, Elora fails to acknowledge that the other Rez Dogs may not want to leave. Willie Jack has a close relationship with her parents and feels like she still has more to learn from them, as she beautifully orates in the season finale. Cheese became friends with a kind, old woman who calls him her grandson (which is one of the most wholesome and funny relationships in the series). Even Bear has doubts because of his mom. Leaving her would make him just like his father, who ran off to have a middling rap career.

RELATED: 'Reservation Dogs' Has Been Renewed for a Season 2

Elora's conflict with Bear highlights the main tension within the characters raised by their quest for the west. She criticizes Bear for wanting to dress like his distant dad, yet she is scolding him for a fantasy dream of just picking up and leaving for California. Her dream may be more based in reality, but it is still a massive reach, as well-intended as said dream is. This conflict raises an interesting question: Is Elora honoring Daniel’s legacy appropriately by leaving for California? Or is she overreacting and forcing this upon her friends, hurting their kinship?

Regardless, Elora made up her mind, at least for now. A fight with Bear in the finale leads Elora to take off with Jackie (Elva Guerra), a member of the rival group that beat up Bear earlier in the series. Their first conversation on the ride centers around the city yielding a more independent lifestyle, with Jackie liking the city world where no one bothers each another. Elora just nods and says “cool,” but is clearly conflicted in her decision as she drives off, leaving Bear and the rest of her friends aside. How far she goes will be revealed next season.

Her issues with her community have yet to be resolved, and that may take some extra unpacking. At this point, both her family and her loss are connected to her town and the two are at odds with one another. Elora’s story is fundamental to the series as a whole because her losses, humor, and resilience coupled with her conflicted relationship with her home provide a detailed example of her communities’ experience. She both wants to connect with her friends and learn about her past while living a full life by leaving all of that behind.

On top of that, Elora does provide warmth and wit. She has the kindness to chuckle and smile when her coach tells her about his nickname, Chukogee, that her mom gave him. She later leaves him with a laugh after telling him that “Chukogee” means toilet instead of “Great White Warrior” and calls him “Chukogee” as she drives away.

The storytelling works wonders with Elora, but Jacobs also adds nuisances to the character with her performance. From the way she changes emotions quickly to both lighthearted and stern ways she addresses her friends, Jacobs embodies the role and finds the right lines between wit, anger, and sadness. She holds back fully emoting most of the series as well, making her few moments to let everything out even more powerful.

Elora makes Reservation Dogs complete, serving as the literal leader of the group and one of the key emotional anchors of the entire story.

Reservation Dogs Season 1 is streaming now on FX on Hulu.

KEEP READING: ‘Reservation Dogs’ Is At Its Best When Focusing on the Authentic Representation of Native People



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