‘Reservation Dogs’ Star Devery Jacobs on Writing for Season 2 & What’s Next for Elora
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 2, Episode 4 of Reservation Dogs, “Mabel.”]
After Elora Danan (Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs) abandoned her friends to travel out west to California at the beginning of the season, she shocked Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai) by showing up at his bedroom window. At first, she hears an earful about how upset he is, but that upset is replaced by concern when she tearfully reveals her grandmother Mabel is dying.
Serving as the title of this episode, Jacobs co-writes the installment with co-creator Sterlin Harjo to deliver a heartbreaking, hopeful, and female-forward story. Below, Jacobs opens up about her experience of writing as well as performing in the series and teases what’s to come.
How did you become involved with the writer’s room this season and what led you to this episode in particular?
Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs: I always wanted to be a part of the writer’s room and for Season 1, I had just focused on acting and wanted to make sure I did the best job that I could. For Season 2, I was nervously compiling my writing samples and was like, “I’m going to plead a case for myself, even if I have to be like a shadow in there.” When I approached Sterlin and he invited me in on the spot, there were no questions asked. I was so relieved and was also like, “Wait, I don’t have to fight for this?”
I was originally only supposed to be a part of the writer’s room for a couple of weeks, but they ended up extending the time for me. I was able to do the whole first part of the room and the second part of the room as a staff writer. Then, I was invited by Sterlin to co-write Episode 4, “Mabel.” I went in with no expectations, hoping to learn as much as I could, and am just so thrilled that I was able to do as much as I did and to bring as many ideas as I did to the season.
Essentially, Sterlin would sit with the overarching season that we all created together and would figure out which episodes would most connect to whichever experiences the writers’ had gone through personally or where they specialize. I was not expecting to get this episode. I was actually focusing more on other characters outside of Elora. I was really passionate about the ideas of these women coming in and reconciling the older generation of women, and those kinds of responsibilities transferring down to the next generation where you see Elora, Jackie (Elva Guerra), and Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis) taking charge and helping run this system because so many indigenous communities have women at the center of them holding it down.
Also, the idea of death being a positive experience, obviously with the exception of when people pass before their time and when there’re tragic incidences, but I had just been passionate about how much fun funerals are on Rezs, like when you’re there at four in the morning talking to this person’s loved ones about all the stupid things that they did when they were young. That element, I feel, hasn’t been explored before, and I thought that could be a really healing moment for Elora.
Because I had been so passionate about this storyline, Sterlin had assigned the episode to me to write with him. I was very intimidated. I wasn’t prepared to write for Elora, for my character, but I was up for the challenge, and it was one that both of us had pulled so much from. I know that Sterlin had based a lot of things on the experience he had with his grandmother’s passing, so it just ended up being a really special process and experience. It’s an episode that I’m really proud of as an actor, but also as a writer.
Speaking of the women, viewers are introduced to Elora’s aunt Teenie (Tamara Podemski). Were you able to help build the history of these characters because you wrote on this episode?
In the process of the writer’s room, we really built up and tore down so much. So many ideas we had come in with, but then if anything read as forced or contrived it was gone. What ended up happening in that long process was, we were like, “Are we even going to even have a season?” Then, the story really presented itself to us. That story last season is introduced in Episode 3 and also in Episode 7, where we learned, from both Brownie (Gary Farmer) and Coach Dobson (Bill Burr), what had happened with Elora’s mother and Teenie. It ended up playing as a parallel between this younger generation who has just experienced the loss of their friend Daniel (Dalton Cramer) and how that fractured their relationship, almost mirrors and runs parallel to what happened with Cookie and how Teenie was the one who moved away, and that ended up becoming a break and sending shockwaves through their friendship.
That was something that ended up just presenting itself to us and was something we wanted to explore in this episode, in particular, where a lot is happening for Elora around her feelings with Teenie, a character that we loved, and we had written specifically for Tamara Podemski, so I’m so glad that she was available and interested in taking on the role.
Elora is looking at Teenie and feeling many complicated and contradictory things. Feelings of anger and resentment for being away, but admiration and awe for being somebody who left but is still connected to the community, while also seeing the impacts that Teenie’s decisions, after the death of Cookie, had on her friend group, and how that mirrors Elora’s own experiences of what could happen. Teenie ended up being like a missing piece to this older friend group and paints a clearer picture of what happened with them.
Speaking of the friend group. There’s obvious tension between Elora and the rest of her Rez Dogs crew for her actions earlier this season. Would they have shown up for her if the circumstances were different, do you think? Or is Willie Jack, Bear, and Cheese’s (Lane Factor) annoyed with Jackie?
There are a few things. There will always be love between all of the Rez Dogs. Even though Elora betrayed her friends by leaving with Jackie, they are still going to be there for her no matter what. That being said, it doesn’t mean that there’s necessarily closure on what happened and that everything is all square. That’s definitely going to be an interesting conversation happening throughout the season. Also, there was another point that I wanted to bring up. Because Elora’s grandmother has just passed, there’s also almost an inability to be angry with her for betraying them. Specifically, with Willie Jack, I feel like there’s displaced anger, essentially, where she can’t feel angry with Elora because Grandma Mabel’s dying, all of that anger is being siphoned towards Jackie. I’m excited for audiences to see where all of that ends up going.
Ooh, yes, it should be fun. And when it comes to Season 2 so far, this is the broadest episode in terms of showing off characters. Was that daunting as a writer to help create so many voices?
It was exciting for me. I think that’s where I really get my rocks off as a writer. I love finding, through subtle moments, where people are at with the journey that they’re on. Being an actor turned filmmaker, that’s it for me. So I don’t think I even realized how many characters there were in the episode until we were all having that dinner and it was just lined up. It was a huge iconic moment for me of seeing Gary Farmer, Zahn McClarnon, Tamara, and Sarah Podemski,[as well as] so many other icons who I’ve looked up to for so long seated in one place.
I realized, “Wow, I really made this job difficult for the director in terms of blocking, and every character in the show being together in one house, and having to figure out how those scenes are going to be mapped out. I didn’t realize until we were in-person shooting that scene that I was like, “Dang, this is a communal episode.” I feel lucky to have co-written it.
Still, the story is heavily focused on Elora who has put up with her fair share of emotional moments since Season 1. Are there easier times ahead for her or do you enjoy getting put through the emotional ringer?
We were joking that [for a possible] Season 3, Elora has to find love. She has to find happiness. Only happy things for Elora from here on out. Even though last season, Episode 7, was a very profound moment of trauma for Elora whereas this episode is a moment of intense emotion and grief, for me, it was ultimately about healing in it. I think that’s where the key difference is in these two episodes, in these two seasons, the feelings behind it and death aren’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a part of life, so for Elora to experience it in the right way was really monumental in her journey in the series.
In terms of what might be ahead, is there anything you’re particularly excited for fans to see? Anything you can tease?
Oh my gosh, this season gets wild. We go bananas this season. I would say, in our communities and inner cultures, we have genre-bending styles or stories where even though something might be a spooky story, it’s also comedic. Even though something might be a comedy, it’s rooted in drama or in romance. Because our stories are so varied and genre-defying, I think that’s also reflected in our series. We go to many different places this season, but it’s all strung together in a throughline that I’m really excited about.
And even though Elora’s back on the Rez for now, is her goal still to reach California? It’s clear that Jackie still intends to go.
I think that it was through Episodes 1 and 2, where we see that despite leaving and getting out of the place, which is ultimately what Elora was trying to do, it was not as fulfilling as she thought it was going to be. She was consumed with guilt from leaving there and that it didn’t feel like she was necessarily honoring Daniel in the way that she was leaving. Also, I think Elora’s appeal of going to California was more just to get out of that place, but Elora’s learning that no matter where she runs, this is going to catch up with her until she heals through it. California is a big question mark on if she’s going to make it out that way. I think that there are definitely some doubts about going out west.
FX’s Reservation Dogs, Season 2, New Episodes, Wednesdays, Hulu