EXCLUSIVE: “It’s all real,” Kaniehtiio Horn’s mythical Deer Lady assures Officer Big (Zahn McClarnon) in the multi-genre latest episode of Reservation Dogs.
More from Deadline
Directed by Blackhorse Lowe, who co-wrote “This is Where The Plot Thickens” with series co-creator Sterlin Harjo, the eighth episode of the FX show’s second season goes deep into inner and historical space. Having dropped today on the Disney and Comcast-owned streamer, the episode almost entirely centers on Big and local drug dealer Kenny Boy (Kirk Fox), as well as fitting within the overall arch of the Peabody Award winning Rez Dogs and simultaneously standing outside the Indigenous North American strong series.
Essentially, starting off with a boring Lighthorse cop shop morning brief teetering on the absurd, “This is Where The Plot Thickens” quickly goes way off the genre rails. Big heads over to the methheads run-scrap yard in search of stolen catfish, only to ends up unwittingly gulping down a hallucinogens laced soda and way down the psychedelic path. The resulting romp in the Oklahoma woods weaves together a mosaic of the comical, familial with a flashback visit to Grandma’s, and deeply traumatic, as Big recollects the preventable motorcycle death of Elora’s (Devery Jacobs) mother Cookie.
A meeting or two with the mysterious Deer Lady also sees the trippin’ duo stumble up a political and corporate heavyweight gathering of clocked and catfish masked Order of the Midstreamers. Confirming a lot of the conspiracy inclined Big’s worst fears, the “secret society” of white supremacists are chanting their control of “all Indian territory” and the mineral rights “beneath the ground.” Bring that catfish plot from earlier and Season 1’s “Come and Get Your Love” back to life, the Midstreamers get carnal with the heads of the stolen fish.
Initially overtaken by the governor’s bodyguards, a terrified and still very stoned Big vividly relives the night that Cookie and her biker boyfriend fatally crashed. Revealing to Kenny Boy that he ‘failed some friends of mine, Big begins to face his own pain. With masterful timing, Deer Lady shows up to take out the bodyguards, free the duo (turns out she’s been visiting Kenny Boy also) and console Big to take care of himself and “keep being good.”
Fighting the good fight is exactly what a slightly more sobered up Big and Kenny Boy do as they call for back-up and bust the “fish f*ckers” Midstreamers and their Sooner State version of Bohemian Grove. “Arrest these nasty crackers,” declares Big in the big takedown.
Oh, yeah and Big’s obsession of Bigfoot makes a walk-on cameo too.
Lowe, McClarnon and Fox spoke with me about “This is Where The Plot Thickens,” what is was like to film and where it means Reservation Dogs could go next.
DEADLINE: Blackhorse, “This is Where The Plot Thickens” is a very different sort of Reservation Dogs episode, even in a season that often throws out the roadmap. What was the inspiration for the episode?
LOWE: What inspired me to write this episode was wanting to see Big and Kenny Boy reunite and send them on a psychedelic journey. Also the need to do something completely different from the rest of the episodes. This episode is also a nod to the genres and films I love.
DEADLINE: Zahn, on any other show this would be the spinoff pilot, and maybe it is here, but what was this episode for you, with Big so much at the core of things?
MCCLARNON: You get the script, man, and you just show up and you have fun and you take risks and you go for it, you know. And what a great guy to have next to me, Kirk Fox, improv specialist, with that you just go for it, you know? We were straddling this line of going over the top and not going over the top.
Obviously, if you are really tripping on hallucinogenics, you just stand still and you don’t do anything. You’re just in so awe. So, you have to find that fine line of portraying that trip, portraying being under the influence so the audience gets it, and it’s obviously a comedy, but it’s also drama. So, it’s just finding those fine lines and kind of relying on each other. I relied on Kirk quite a bit, as well as Blackhorse Lowe and Sterlin.
DEADLINE: What did you think of the whole idea when Sterlin and Blackhorse brought it to you?
MCCLARNON: I just thought it was an amazing idea, and to have Blackhorse, knowing Blackhorse’s past and what Blackhorse has gone through and knowing him as a filmmaker, I was just very excited. So, just comes to me with ideas, basically, and tells me what he’s kind of thinking about for the next season.
DEADLINE: Blackhorse, what does this episode tell us about the show overall?
LOWE: What I feel this episode says about the evolution of Reservation Dogs is that we are fearless when it comes to stories and characters. We’re willing to push the envelope and expand on the world that Sterlin created.
DEADLINE: To that, Kirk, how far did you have to push your own envelope on “Plot?”
FOX: Well, I have to say it was a world that I had really never danced in with regards to psychedelics and tripping. it hadn’t been on my radar. So, what I found freeing for me was just to surrender and to get out of my own way.
DEADLINE: How was that with Zahn as co-pilot, so to speak?
FOX: (LAUGHS) I’ve loved Zahn since the day I met him, there was always a kind of kindred connection.
So, Zahn made it such a safe environment to just stop thinking and just say the words, and whatever we were seeing is what took us on the ride. If I improv’d, he went with it, and he got loose, and then I’d go with him. So, it was a real dance out there, and it was a blast for me. You know, you can see it on the paper, but until it’s in front of your face, then…well, our reactions were real. So, I think that’s what made it fun for me, because I couldn’t really believe what they were putting in front of us.
DEADLINE: Blackhorse, what do you hope the response to the episode will be?
LOWE: I hope this episode is affecting, like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo and The Holy Mountain were to me. Both really shook my sensibilities on understanding using psychedelics in cinema.
DEADLINE: There’s a lot of psychedelics, a lot of very deep-seated themes here, but there is also a pretty fast paced 30-minute near iconic buddy movie too in the mix too. You guys have been working together on the show for two seasons now, but this was a whole new level of interaction. How did you prepare for that?
MCCLARNON: I looked into some of the psychedelic movies of the past. We actually had a screening. What was the name of that movie Blackhorse screened, K?
FOX: The Night Before, but I didn’t go because I didn’t want to get scared.
MCCLARNON: (LAUGHS) I watched it at home in my hotel room. It’s an old ‘70s movie about psychedelics and eating psychedelics. So, I focused on more of that, researched that kind of stuff instead of more the buddy kind of flicks.
MCCLARNON: Yeah, like Kirk said, I just have to show up and be open to Kirk, you know, because Kirk starts with love. I just had to be open to that, be open to the dialogue and what Sterlin and Blackhorse wrote about these two characters. It’s just so easy to work with Kirk because he is that kind of a person. So, I didn’t research any of the buddy-buddy kind of flicks or anything.
FOX: I didn’t, either.
FOX: No. What I felt is that Zahn and I, we are buddies. So, whatever we’re doing out there, everyone around us was referencing the buddy cop movies, whether it was Lethal Weapon or 48 Hours, because it was undeniable that what they were seeing was something that they could reference it to, but I know, speaking for myself, that I didn’t think about any of that because we were just buddies, and we were just doing the action.
As for a spinoff, the truth is, I think Kenny Boy, just like Kirk Fox, deep down always wanted to be a cop. I think Kenny Boy dreams of law enforcement. So, the spinoff can go anywhere. I think the next time Big and I are together, I mean, it could be very interesting, but I think Kenny Boy just wants a badge, whether it’s fake or not.
DEADLINE: Zahn, do you think we’ll see more of this, more of Big and Kenny Boy building on the experience they’ve had in this episode?
MCCLARNON: Man, who knows where Sterlin’s taking the show, you know? I mean, he’s such a creative mind, and he’s so wonderful to work with, and I don’t know where he’s taking the show. I just know that, you know, he wanted Big to have more of a backstory and for viewers to understand Big’s trauma. I just thought it was a perfect episode to do to allow the public, the viewers to see that trauma from Big and how to expose that trauma.
FOX: I have to agree with Zahn there. I think this show will go wherever Sterlin’s mood is at the time, and with that being said, wherever it goes, I think it will touch on what’s going on in the world as a whole.
This episode is big.
Scope wise, it touches on some pretty heavy topics, and I think that’s what I love about this show. That Sterlin with Blackhorse decided to humanize Kenny Boy a little and to let me run with Zahn for a whole episode was really exciting for me to get me out of the salvage yard and just, you know, let Kenny Boy start living.
DEADLINE: In many ways, that’s the essence of the show …
FOX: Yeah, I think the beauty of Reservation Dogs is whatever it touches on and wherever it goes, it’s going to come from truth. I think when you have truth as a base and you’re not answering to anybody but yourself and the other writers who are all his friends and the community. He speaks for hundreds of years. So, whatever he is saying is important, and it’s never going to be light. I think he has set the stage for just about anything you want, I think you can see in this show right now. There’s no holding back now.
DEADLINE: Speaking of not holding back, Zahn you’re possibly one of the busiest people in Hollywood right now. You just had Hawkeye, and you’ve got Echo coming up on Disney+, you‘ve got Dark Winds, and you’ve got Rez Dogs. In a career that’s lasted decades, how does it feel with all these projects going right now?
MCCLARNON: It feels great to be wanted. As an actor, you work for this for years. I’ve been in the business for 30 years, and I’ve finally gotten to a point where I’m consistently working and people are asking for me, and I just feel extremely fortunate to be where I am today.
It’s a dream come true. It really is.
I hope it keeps going. I’m getting a little bit older now, and I’m having fun, and that’s the main focus, is to have fun and enjoy my life. Enjoy what I’m doing and enjoy the process. For Res Dogs, this episode was one of the highlights. It’s all about taking risks and having fun, and that’s what I try to do, and I hope it shows up in the work. I really do.
DEADLINE: You guys are finished filming Season 2, with the finale coming up on September 28 clearly. What’s the spillover of what happened between Big and Kenny Boy in this episode?
FOX: Well, I can say you’re going to have to watch.
DEADLINE: You have to say that, it’s in your contract…
MCCLARNON: We’re hired actors, and if we’re not in the other episodes, we’re not privy to what those scripts are, you know? So, we don’t know. Maybe it’ll spill over to next season, but as far as I know, you know, Kenny and Big live to be close friends. Who knows what’s going to happen? Am I going to arrest Kenny now? Who knows?
FOX: Who knows what happens in life? I know Kenny Boy could use a shower.
MCCLARNON: Maybe Big goes back and gets some kind of psilocybin therapy from Kenny Boy, you know? Maybe Kenny Boy becomes his spirit guide.
DEADLINE: Blackhorse, will we see more such stand-alone episodes? Another Big and Kenny Boy team-up?
LOWE: I hope so. And I hope I’m there to write and direct it and make it even weirder than this last episode.
Best of Deadline