I couldn’t help but think of those questions while watching “House Made of Bongs,” the fifth episode of FX‘s Reservation Dogs‘ superb third season. We haven’t written about Reservation Dogs that much around these parts aside from its inevitable appearances on our Best TV of 2021, 2022, and 2023 (so far) lists. That’s largely because the show’s greatness is so evident that it doesn’t usually feel necessary to comment further. Until now at least.
Created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, Reservation Dogs is a touching little dramedy on Hulu that follows four Indigenous teenagers as they try to pass time in their tiny Oklahoma town and recover from the invisible wounds from their friend’s suicide. Through two seasons the show has provided countless hilarious, affecting, and arresting moments but it’s really leveled up in this third and final outing. By delving deeper into the community surrounding the show’s four young leads, Reservation Dogs has established one of the most vibrant small towns on television while commenting on the cyclical nature of family and the struggle between collectivism and individuality.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in this excellent fifth episode. Like episode 3 “Deer Lady” before it, “House Made of Bongs” flashes back to the past. It doesn’t flash all the way back to the cruel days of Native American boarding schools that destroyed culture and forced assimilation but to the more recent and relatively cheerful days of the 1970s. The installment follows one day in the youth of many of the Okern, Oklahoma community’s present day elders and reveals how the anxieties of triumphs of yesterday linger into today.
“House Made of Bongs” is a strange beast. It presents the origin stories of some deep background characters – including one character who was introduced only three episodes ago for a guest appearance but who seems to be the emotional lynchpin of his entire generation. There’s also a literal alien thrown in there for good measure.
This episode feels profound in a way that I can’t properly articulate or explain. But I’m going to try to do exactly that anyway. With occasional input from “House Made of Bongs” director Blackhorse Lowe (who was nice enough to chat with Den of Geek about this week, which he directed alongside next week’s “Frankfurter Sandwich”), here is a full explanation of what’s going on in Reservation Dogs‘ big flashback episode and why it all matters.
Who is Maximus?
Initially, one of the most confusing things about Reservation Dogs season 3 episode 5 is that its lead character is the younger version of a (seemingly) minor character. When “House Made of Bongs” picks up on the last day St. Nicholas Training School (yes, the same boarding school from “Deer Lady,” albeit many years in the future) in 1976, we’re introduced to Maximus a.k.a. Chebon (Isaac Arellanes). Interested in film, Maximus has just graduated from his junior year at St. Nicholas but it set to stay for the summer since he has nowhere else to go…or so he says.