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Reservation Dogs, season 3, review: want to be the TV-watcher in the know? Binge this series

Lane Factor, D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Elva Guerra and Paulina Alexia in Reservation Dogs
Lane Factor, D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Elva Guerra and Paulina Alexia in Reservation Dogs - Shane Brown/FX

It’s generally acknowledged that we live in an age where there’s too much TV for any sane, or gainfully employed, person to watch. A corollary, however, is that the schedules are filled with undiscovered gems; series that, for various reasons, have been overlooked.

Reservation Dogs (Disney+) has for several years been my go-to, sure-fire recommendation for the one or two people in the sentient universe who don’t have enough series on the go already. The story of four indigenous teenagers from rural Oklahoma on a Stand By Me-style quest to get to California in honour of their dead friend, it takes reliable staples of good story-telling – a bildungsroman, a road trip, a gang of disparate adolescents to relate to and root for – but throws all that up in the air to see where it lands. It is bold and brilliant.

So, the first suggestion for its third and final season is that you go and watch the first two. At crisp, well-paced half hours that, for once, is a proposal that won’t take up a month of your valuable time. Then you’ll be all set for this third season, which is also the last – again, Reservation Dogs wins because it ends; watching the whole thing is a feasible undertaking. You’ll be left wanting more.

The story, which was created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, follows Elora (Devory Jacobs), Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis) and Cheese (Lane Factor) as they make both a literal and spiritual journey. The literal journey was first west to Los Angeles, in order to honour the wishes of their dead friend, Daniel, and now, in this series, back home again.

The spiritual journey is from childhood to adulthood, all the way guided by the cryptic aphorisms of William “Spirit” Knifeman (Dallas Goldtooth). Spirit, a self-proclaimed great warrior who died at the battle of Little Bighorn (though we later learn he didn’t actually get a shot off) functions both as a narrator, guiding the audience, and as a barmy mystic, guiding (but more often antagonising) Bear. He’s both chorus and comic relief.

On paper, the concern about Reservation Dogs is that it could come across as preachy. It is, after all, a seminal depiction of American Native communities and culture, as well as a scathing critique of what placing those peoples on reservations has done. Not everyone wants their entertainment to come with a message. But the series’ triumph is that it manages to wear the weight of a shameful history lightly. The bus ride home in season three is shown on screen as one of those dotted line, Indiana Jones maps – but across an America depicted as a patchwork of tribes, not states.

There is one truly superb episode that shows in flashback what Christian missionaries did to convert Indigenous children. It’s educational and startling, and yet it’s  integrated and germane to the character stories unfurling. Mainly, you will fall in love with one or all of the four leads, exactly as you are supposed to. And then you’ll tell everyone you know about this series that they absolutely have to watch right now.