‘Ghosts’ Star Román Zaragoza on Sasappis’ Tree & Modern Native Representation
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Ghosts Season 2, Episode 4, “The Tree.”]
Ghosts took a nature-focused path in its latest episode, “The Tree,” as Sam (Rose McIver) and Jay (Utkarsh Ambudkar) took it upon themselves to rescue a tree that was important to Sasappis (Román Zaragoza).
The tree at the edge of their property was a worthy cause, but Sasappis wasn’t exactly honest about his desire to keep the tree rooted in place, claiming that markings on the bark represented the “13 dialects of the Lenape,” when in actuality, the carvings represented all of the times Sasappis’ crush Shiki said “hi” to him. The seemingly harmless fib turns into a big PR nightmare for the Woodstone B&B proprietors when Lenape representative Bob (Dallas Goldtooth) refutes Sam’s dialect explanation. Ultimately, Sas comes clean about his reason for the lie, but it isn’t enough to save the dying tree from being cut down by Sam and Jay’s neighbors, Ally (Punkie Johnson) and June (Carolyn Taylor).
In a kind gesture, June and Ally give Sam and Jay some of the seeds from the tree so that they can plant them at Woodstone. While it doesn’t bring back the original tree, it’s a way to keep its legacy going for Sas. Below, Zaragoza opens up about his character’s emotional journey in the episode, the importance of modern Native representation through Goldtooth’s character, and much more.
Sasappis is between a rock and a hard place in this episode. While he wants to protect the tree for personal reasons, he does lie about its significance, putting Sam in a sticky situation. What was it like getting to work on this storyline?
Román Zaragoza: It was so exciting, and then to dive into Sas’s backstory and learn more about who he is and why he is the way he is now. It’s really interesting to see these different layers of him. He’s a smart, cunning guy and he’s like, “I want to save this tree. I will do whatever I can to save that because this is kind of like the last piece from my life.” It’s a little scary to think that it won’t be there anymore. That means like, “who am I without that physical reminder?”
Sasappis’ connection to the tree is tied up in Shiki (Crystle Lightning), who appears in this episode. Are you still holding out hope that they’ll be able to connect in a more tangible way?
Shiki definitely doesn’t feel the same way as Sasappis feels about her, but I think there is something to say about [the fact that] they knew each other when they were alive, and there’s a really beautiful connection because of that. And I think there’s something more that we can dive into between the two of them. I would love to see more. And also, Crystle Lightning is amazing, so to have her back on the show would be awesome.
Dallas Goldtooth is also a guest star in this episode, playing Lenape representative, Bob. What was it like working with him?
We worked together [before] and it was just so exciting to have him be part of the show. He’s such an incredibly funny person and a huge activist for Indigenous rights. And to bring this modern representation to the show, which was a big conversation that I’ve been having with the Joes [showrunners Joe Wiseman and Joe Port], because Sas is such an amazing character, but he’s still from the past and I want to make sure [viewers] realize that Native people are still here. We’re not just a figment of the past. We’re not extinct and ancient. We are modern people and we are living modern lives. It’s such a fun character and he’s so great in everything, all the wisdom that his character instills is just really exciting.
Sasappis tells Sam that the markings on the tree represent the dialects of the Lenape. Do you think the irony is lost on him that his Season 1 episode showed off his storyteller side?
Some storytellers can be deceiving as well. I think it goes to show how Sasappis can cause drama and chaos with his storytelling, but also he can bring some beauty with storytelling as well. So I think especially in this moment, it’s a need to accomplish something. “I will use my skills to create a story and hopefully it works.” And as we see, he opens up to apologize for his lying. But, yeah, I really love how the episode reverses that, it’s really exciting.
While your story in the episode revolves around protecting a tree, Thorfinn (Devan Long) also gets swept up in defending nature after he’s taught about global warming. Why is it important to tell stories like this in the show?
Preserving the land and all of that storyline really goes parallel with the Sasappis storyline, which I really loved about it. We get to see this side Thor, he’s wanting Flower (Sheila Carrasco) to fall for him. And so he is trying to do what he can, and then he’s learning more and more about climate change and he’s like, “This is crazy, we need to do something about this.” And I love seeing that, and how a being from a thousand years ago is getting really upset at how humans have ruined everything, from when he was alive.
You mentioned the importance of modern Native representation. Was that something you discussed with the Joes for this episode in particular? What was the collaboration process like for this installment?
[The character Bob is based on one of our] consultants, Joe Baker. He is the executive director of the Lenape Center, he co-founded it. And so that was really an exciting piece that I learned after I saw the script. It’s really cool that the whole writers’ room was able to bring a real Native character [to TV] and made him just this normal guy. You know, he’s not a stereotype, He’s not some archetype of what Native people are. He’s just Bob, and I loved that. And I think the more we see native representation like that, like on Reservation Dogs and Rutherford Falls, it’s just so exciting. Television has the power of telling stories that haven’t been told and really show people what life really is. I think to have this modern representation of Native people on our show was just a missing puzzle piece that I’m happy we have.
As we continue Season 2, is there anything you can tease about what’s next for Sasappis? Anything you’d like to see?
Sas is this three-dimensional person and we get to see that, which is really exciting this season. We really dive into all of the sides of Sas. There’s a lot of stuff I can’t talk about yet, but we’re working on some exciting storylines where Sas is put into scenarios that he’s never really been in before. He’s 500 years old, yet he’s still this young soul. He died relatively young and so he didn’t really get to experience all that life has to offer. So we’re really seeing how his immaturity is coming out in ways. But he’s also still this old soul, so he is really jaded in other ways. I’m just really excited to dive more into who he is as a ghost. And let’s get my dad [Gregory Zaragoza who appeared as Sasappis’ father in Season 1] back in there, you know?
Ghosts, Season 2, Thursdays, 8:30/7:30c, CBS