Trigger warning: this episode of Reservation Dogs deals a lot of heavy issues that plague Indigenous communities across the country.
In “California Dreamin’,” Elora Danan’s (Devery Jacobs) driving test turns into an adventure with her old basketball coach. Elora is determined to get to California. She’s frustrated with her friends who don’t seem as serious as she is. On the surface, Elora is tough, but deep down, you can see there’s more than one reason she wants to leave.
Written and directed by Tazbah Chavez
A YEAR AGO
For the first time, we see Daniel (Dalton Cramer) with the Reservation Dogs. The five friends walk through the neighborhood talking and laughing. They hear Daniel’s parents fighting and stop. Elora Danan asks Daniel to take a walk with her. He agrees and invites everyone else, but they all have to go home.
Elora daydreams at the DMV. She is taking her driving test for the fourth time. Four is a sacred number, but the lady at the DMV says this is her final shot. The examiner for Elora’s test is her old basketball coach, Coach Bobson (Bill Burr). Apparently Elora was quite the basketball player with a superstar attitude. She says she quit because she had to go to work at the casino. By work, she means stealing cigarettes and selling them in the parking lot.
Elora’s car is what we call an NDN car. The rearview mirror is broke off, the windshield wipers barely work, but the car runs. Elora has to duct tape the mirror to the windshield to take her test. She is nervous about the test because it’s her last shot. Coach says he knows people who took the test ten times. It’s a good thing there’s no traffic.
Elora tells Coach about moving to California. He laughs, thinking she’s planning to drive the car she’s in. But that’s her grandma’s car. Coach asks about her grandma. Elora says she’s still mean and doesn’t talk to her anymore.
Elora attempts to parallel park the car, but it’s a tight space. She gets flustered and starts crying. Coach offers to give her a quick lesson and takes over. She’s faking of course. Coach hits both cars and a passerby honks at him for being in the way.
Coach’s phone rings. He gets some information about a girl at a motel. Coach says they have to take a detour. He drives the motel and they see a young girl walk into a room. Coach takes out a gun and tells Elora to wait for him. She texts her location to Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), Cheese (Lane Factor) and Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), just in case she dies.
Elora and Daniel walk around the parking lot of a honky tonk later that night. All of the cars are locked. Elora hears the music and asks Daniel to go in with her. They don’t card at this particular bar so the kids go in and sit down. Daniel gets into the music, and Elora asks him to two-step. He says no, but she pulls him out on the floor. They start having fun.
Later in the night, Daniel is still dancing on the floor, but Elora is tired and ready to go home. He bumps into an older couple. The man tells him to be careful and Daniel gets mad and leaves. Elora chases him outside. He says he’s going home, but he’s walking the wrong way. He says he can’t go home, so he’s going to walk around. Elora tells him to text her if he needs her and says she loves him. Daniel asks her if she would go to California with him. He’s always wanted to go. She says she will go with him.
A girl runs out of the motel and a gunshot goes off. Coach chases the girl, but then jumps in the car. He says the girl is his daughter. A man walks out of the room with a gun and shoots Elora’s taillight. She takes off before any more damage is done.
They drive around looking for Coach’s daughter but she’s gone. Elora offers to keep looking. Coach is upset. He says his daughter is running with the wrong crowd and he couldn’t stop it. She’s on drugs. He hasn’t seen or heard from her in weeks. Elora asks what he’s going to do. He says he can’t do anything. He just shot someone so he needs to slow down. Elora promises to keep a secret. He doesn’t want to send her home with a busted taillight, but Elora knows where she can get it fixed.
Ansel (Matty Cardarople) and Kenny Boy (Kirk Fox) are sitting in the salvage yard when Elora pulls up. Kenny Boy greets her in Dine. Ansel can see that the car was shot, but Kenny Boy thinks the light is out because of parallel parking. They begin working on the light.
Elora text Bear, but they are in for the day. She thinks about texting Jackie (Elva Guerra). Coach distracts her with a basketball and says she’s just like her mom, Cookie. He knew her mom well. Elora doesn’t know much about her and asks him if he knows what happened to her Mom. All she knows is that she died in a wreck.
Coach was there that night. Everyone was drinking. He says they tried to stop Cookie’s boyfriend from driving. Uncle Brownie (Gary Farmer) ended up fighting the guy before he took off with Cookie. And they wrecked.
Coach mentions that Cookie used to call him cukuce (pronounced chu-ku-gee) and they told him it meant ‘great white warrior.’ (mmmkay …) Coach gets emotional thinking about his friends. They grew up together. It makes Elora think of Daniel.
Elora took some catfish to Daniel, but he didn’t answer. She texts Bear to see if Daniel went to school, but he didn’t show up. She goes to their hideout, but no one is there. There is a building next to the hideout though. As soon as Elora walks in, she sees Daniel hanging and starts crying and screaming. She runs to his body and tries to lift him up.
Elora starts crying and Coach consoles her. Kenny Boy and Ansel walk up to let them know the car is ready. They even fixed the rearview mirror. Coach asks how much they owe. Kenny Boy quotes Red Cloud. “We do not want riches. We want peace and love.” But then says they will take $20. Coach gives them $40.
Elora drops Coach off at home. He passes her and wishes her luck in California. Elora leans out of the window and tells Coach what cukuce really means. It’s not ‘great white warrior,’ it means toilet. Coach laughs and goes inside.
Watch the Reservation Dogs on FX on Hulu.
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