The Scene: Reservation Dogs Season One, Episode Two, “NDN Clinic”
Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-TaiElora (Devery Jacobs), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), and cheeseLane Factor) are all hanging around their local Oklahoma reservation’s Indian Health Service (IHS) clinic. This isn’t their idea of a fun hangout spot. The four teenage friends are plotting to raise money so that they can finally move away from their dead-end “rez,” and to do so they come up with an idea to set up a station outside of their clinic and sell some meat pies. Jacobs, for one, was already very familiar with the dish: “They’re a staple in Muskogee communities, but I feel like we all have our own version of them.”
The IHS clinic is the main setting of the episode—it’s where Cheese befriends an elderly clinic patient, Bear gets jumped by the “NDN Mafia,” Elara starts experiencing stomach pains after eating too many chips, and eventually we meet the snarky, sarcastic clinic secretary, Bev (Jana Schmieding). “Hey, y’all, this girl with stomach pains is selling meat pies,” Bev deadpans to Elora after being hit up for a sale. “Y’all want any?”
While Bev’s cameo is short and sweet, many of the cast and crew of Res Dogs I agree that it’s still one of the funniest performances of the entire season (so much so that Bev will even be making a return in season two). “Bev does not give a hootsays Jacobs. “She’s every auntie I’ve ever encountered behind every counter in my community.”
For Schmieding, who is also the star of Peacock’s Rutherford Falls, the character comes from that exact inspiration. “I’ve been to IHS clinics too, so I know what it’s like there,” says Schmieding, who is a member of the Cheyenne River Lakota Sioux Tribe. “I just know that Bev is like that with every single person that walks through the door—annoyed that they’re even here. Like, ‘How dare you make me work?’”
But getting into character wasn’t as simple as dialing up the attitude. She worked with series cocreator Sterlin Harjo to cultivate that signature Bev sass. “Sterlin had a character in mind [for Bev]Schmieding says. “He really wanted this receptionist to be stone-cold and completely deadpan, which actually isn’t my forte—I tend to be more expressive and to play with my face and do silly stuff.”
A comedian by trade, it took Schmieding a few takes to get the monotone voice and judging eyes down pat. “I got the note a few times saying, ‘This time, just do it completely deadpan,'” she says. “I would think I was doing it, but he would be like, ‘No, this time, just deadpan.’” Meanwhile, Jacobs struggled to keep a straight face: “It was hard to play offended when Jana was talking about my digestive system,” she says.
Even more powerful than the eye daggers Bev shoots at her patients, however, is the deeper meaning at play in the episode. Bev, and the poorly run clinic she works in, actually serve as a commentary on reservation clinics and their broad lack of funding. “Different institutions play a role in [people in] Indian country’s lives, and IHS is one of them,” Jacobs says. “It’s definitely a commentary on the fact that services people get [there] frickin’ suck. Studies have shown that we, as Indigenous folks, get significantly less funding per person per capita; It’s making light of it—as us Indians do, by laughing everything off—but actually brings in a bigger conversation around access to health care in our communities.”
Though there’s an element of satire, Schmieding adds the episode is not meant to “trash” the IHS. “It’s saying, here’s an underfunded institution, and the people within it are dedicated,” she says.
Schmieding, whose character returns in the second season of Rutherford Falls This week, remembers her time on the Native-led set of Reservation Dogs as an entirely special experience. “I remember looking out into the background, and seeing so many Native elders and community members that Sterlin had invited to be clinic waiting-room folks,” she says. “It just felt real—like a legit IHS experience.”
Jacobs adds there’s a certain power that comes with working on a show that’s entirely from the Indigenous lens. “We all come from different communities and cultures across North America, but there’s also a common thread between each of us,” she says. “There’s a shorthand that we can use when we’re doing takes—we don’t have to overexplain or justify any choices. We’re able to pull from our experiences and find things we wouldn’t, if we weren’t surrounded by kin.”
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