This article contains spoilers for Reservation Dogs season 3 episode 9.
In Reservation Dogs season 3’s fourth episode, Elora Postoak (Devery Jacobs) receives some stunning news: she has a father.
Of course, Elora always understood she had a dad but just assumed he died like her mother did. No one disabused her of that notion until clinic receptionist and unofficial rez gossip queen Bev (Jana Schmieding) confirmed that not only is Elora’s dad alive … he’s a white guy named Rick Miller.
With this reveal, Reservation Dogs implicitly promised that Elora’s father would appear in one of the show’s six remaining episodes. And when he did turn up, he would likely be played by a familiar face. After all, the series has built up quite the fanbase among performers with comedic heavy hitters like Megan Mullally, Bill Burr, and Marc Maron popping by for guest appearances. Surely, one of the many famous white guys in their 50s would be down to play such a massive role.
Well that promise comes to fruition in Reservation Dogs‘ penultimate episode fittingly-named “Elora’s Dad.” Elora does meet her father and he is indeed played by a famous white guy in his 50s. Most importantly, however, the show finds the best possible actor for the job.
If you’re jonesing to find out who Reservation Dogs tapped to play the mysterious Rick Miller, allow us to remove all suspense right now. It’s Ethan Hawke. You may know Ethan Hawke from … well, basically having one of the most impressive acting resumes of his generation. His breakthrough performance was as Todd Anderson in Dead Poets Society. He went on to become a frequent collaborator with acclaimed indie director Richard Linklater in films like Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight, and Boyhood. He’s also been in First Reformed, Training Day, The Northman, and more. He was in Gattaca. Freaking Gattaca, people!
“Elora’s Dad” (written by Jacobs and directed by showrunner Sterlin Harjo) requires little set up, which allows Hawke to get to work quickly. Thanks to the episode 4 reveal of Rick’s name, we knew that a reunion with her father was dramatically inevitable for Elora. What we couldn’t have guessed, however, is how innocuous the inciting event for doing so is. Elora doesn’t seek out Rick for any vague notions of closure or connection – she simply needs his signature on a piece of paper. She’s choosing to defy the odds as a high school dropout by attending college (notably to study something involving mental health, which reminds us once again of the trauma she endured discovering Daniel’s body). To do so, she needs to retrieve her father’s financial information for scholarship purposes. Once Elora sets out to find Rick, she encounters him almost immediately. It’s not like he’s been hiding – this whole time he’s been off living a parallel life in a town within the confines of the same state.
“Elora’s Dad” is a riveting experience for what is basically a conversation between two people in three different settings – first a diner, then a kitchen table, and finally a short walk to a bus stop that somehow feels miles away. Despite being a reunited father and daughter, Elora and Rick don’t have anything particularly interesting to say to each other.
Rick claims he wasn’t a part of Elora’s life for pretty much the reasons you’d expect: they were young, he wasn’t ready, the accident changed everything, etc. Elora, for her part, seems uncomfortably aware of the fact that she’s meeting a fellow adult peer and not a family member. She even comments on the fact that they barely looking alike, which might be the show cleverly lamp-shading the fact that even though Hawke was the best actor for the role, he really looks nothing like Jacobs.
Mismatched father-daughter appearances aside, the conversations that make up the back half “Elora’s Dad” are achingly, breathtakingly real. They’re real because they’re profound, yet mundane. Both Rick and Elora are aware that something big is happening here. The parent-child bond is dramatically acute stuff – almost supernaturally so. Fatherhood and daughterhood invoke collective archetypes as much as they represent flesh and blood people. This is a concept that the show excels in exploring. After all, as Cheese’s grandmother Irene once mumbled in the backseat of a car while high: “Our societies are a lot stronger when there are elders and there are children.” And yet, here is Elora: without an elder and still strong all the same.
As embodied by Hawke, Rick seems like a genuinely good guy. He got himself clean and worked on getting his partner clean. He is both a laid-back stoner and seemingly an attentive father to his three non-Elora children. He’s also refreshingly open about how much of a shitass he was for leaving Elora behind, saying “I don’t know if this a cop out but I didn’t want to take you away from all that. Your family. Your people. And I was a coward.” He performs about as perfectly as a long-absent father can do after an unexpected reunion. But ultimately, what does that bring Elora? Some nice conversation and a pizza Friday.
Both actors are pitch perfect in this episode because they’re able to juggle all the contradictory emotions at play. Hawke, in particular, was built for this kind of thing. Despite making an appearance in Disney+’s Marvel series Moon Knight, Ethan Hawke has a (probably well-earned) reputation for dismissing superheroes films and other similar blockbusters as light, inessential art. Whether he’s right in that assessment is up for debate. What’s not, however, is his assertion that day-to-day life can be as riveting as any Avengers battle. In a 2020 interview with Indiewire, Hawke recounts the conversation he had with Richard Linklater before working on Before Sunrise.
“[Linklater said] My whole life I’ve gone to the movies and there’s espionage and shootouts and helicopters, all this action. Everything that I see is all this drama, [so much so] that you would think my life, our lives, have no drama. That’s not the way I feel. My life feels very exciting to me and I’ve never been involved in a chase or a gun shootout. My life is exciting to me. And what’s the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me? Connecting with another human being…If we can put that on screen I think people will care.”
Sometimes our lives are almost incomprehensibly dramatic. The mere concept of having to “meet” one’s own father is so jarring and surreal that it feels like no one would ever be adult enough to tackle it. But people do it all the time. They have to – whether it’s for a sense of closure or a signature on a piece of paper like Elora.
“Elora’s Dad” lets that drama speak for itself. Elora and Rick have a chat, because what else are they supposed to do? Elora doesn’t get 18 years of pain washed away but she does get a photo of her mom and some new siblings. And when it’s all over, she climbs into the front seat of her shitty car and wordlessly puts on her seatbelt – like anyone would after a completing a menial task or experiencing a moment of unimaginable emotional import. We have such limited capacity to deal with the latter that the two concepts might as well be the same.
The series finale of Reservation Dogs premieres Wednesday, Sept. 27 on Hulu.