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Tamara Podemski is on a hero's journey in Outer Range season 2

Tamara Podemski is on a hero's journey in Outer Range season 2

Tamara Podemski
Prime Video

Tamara Podemski in 'Outer Range' season 2

Prime Video's neo-Western series, starring Josh Brolin, digs deeper into the story of its gay Native American sheriff.

This article contains spoilers for the first four episodes of Outer Range season 2.

Prime Video’s mind-bending neo-Western series Outer Range is back for a second season after a two-year hiatus — and with multiple storylines weaving together across the 1800s, the 1980s and the modern day, you might need some time to catch up.

“I do appreciate that it is a show that makes you think," says Indigenous-Canadian actor Tamara Podemski, who plays Deputy Sheriff Joy Hawk. "I know that we're in this era of distracted watching, or scrolling while watching, and Outer Range doesn’t let you do that."

Helmed by showrunner and executive producer Charles Murray, the show centers around Wyoming rancher Royal Abbott (Josh Brolin), who is fighting to save his land from his power-hungry neighbor Wayne Tillerson (Will Patton) after a mysterious black void opens up in his west pasture, setting off a series of supernatural events and revealing long-buried secrets about his past. The first season ends with the two families fighting for control over the void and its time-traveling properties, culminating in a shoot-out, a bison stampede crossing from past to present, and the sudden disappearance of Royal’s granddaughter Amy.

Joy Hawk is one of the show’s twists on the neo-Western genre: a gay Native American woman with a wife, Martha (MorningStar Angeline), and an adopted daughter — but the first season puts her in a rocky place. Facing an election and caught up in the feud between the Abbotts and the Tillersons, Joy fails to defend her family after a homophobic preacher humiliates them at a church service.

“I had huge hopes for [Joy] for season two, especially because we left her in such a moment of crisis where she was compromising so much of her values, and it was starting to eat away at herself and her family,” Podemski said. “I just really wanted a chance for her to rise up above it all.”

scene from Outer Range season 2 with joy running from a fightPrime Video

That rift with Martha is still unresolved when the events of the season one finale send Joy back in time. Season 2 opens with her stranded in the late 1800s with her Shoshone ancestors, thrust into the heart of the story, not knowing if she’ll ever see her family again.

“We had to allow her to have the emotional response of what it was to travel through time and lose her family. And at the same time, the relevance of what it is to visit a pivotal point in American history. This is post-contact [with white settlers]; it is already the time of treaties. It's the time of early allyship, or what they thought could be allyship before everything went to shit.”

With only a fellow Native time-traveler from the 1970s to help her, Joy is forced to reconnect with herself and her history to survive, knowing all the while that the newly-arrived settlers will eventually seize control of the land.

“I remember so many times just imagining how she'd have to bite her tongue. Because you can't just say ‘run,’ you can't just say, ‘don't trust them.’ How hard it was for her to navigate everything she knows is going to happen to her people. And that's just a heartbreaking position to put someone in.”

To recreate this moment in history, Podemski had help from Native and Indigenous directors like Blackhorse Lowe and Catriona McKenzie; writers like Randy Redroad and Marilyn Thomas; associate producers Ashley Browning and Peshawn Bread; and hundreds of Native cast and crew across multiple departments, including costuming and set design.

This diversity gives Outer Range a perspective that’s often missing from classic Westerns. In one scene, when Royal’s wife Cecelia (Lili Taylor) goes to the police station to put up posters for Amy, she notices several old, neglected posters for Native women and girls who have gone missing.

Connecting Joy’s story to this very real crisis across North America was crucial for Podemski. “In the early days of creating Joy and figuring out why a woman from Wind River would choose to get into law enforcement, I was working very closely with [David J. Rogers], who at the time was leading the task force for the [Missing and Murdered Indigenous People] for the FBI. He was an old friend, and I used to do workshops with him when he taught at the American Indian Youth Academy in California.”

This is further highlighted by the modern-day Shoshone community rallying around Martha when Joy disappears — a stark contrast to the Abbotts, who are judged and isolated by their neighbors as they search for Amy and other lost family members.

“The regular sheriffs were going to go out and have a search party," she said. “But the second Martha was like, ‘No, I'm doing my thing...' When you see that the first time, it just breaks me. We got to show how we deal with that situation when our women go missing, and we see fifty to sixty community members there that are going out, led by Martha.”

Scene from Outer Range season 2 with Joy speaking to another personPrime Video

For the pivotal fourth episode, “Ode to Joy,” Podemski drew inspiration from her own history to transform Joy into a stronger, wiser woman who can fight for her tribe and her family.

“There's an old story in my family where my mother's great-grandmother was a famous bareback rider. My family comes from Saskatchewan, just above Montana. They're big horse riders there. It was the time where we would have these mountain stations [for white men] set up with all the supplies, the rations, and she would raid them and bring them back to her [family]. At that time, it was the early establishment of reservations.”

The episode also reveals that Joy and Royal’s stories are more connected than it seemed in season 1. “When you get to give a character or an audience that much information about who this person ends up growing up to be, it's the greatest gift you can give to an actor. I also felt like, through Joy's story in the past, we bring so much compassion to Royal.

“I don't like to call it a friendship, I don't know if they're ever going to be friends like that, but they certainly share a bond and a secret, and an understanding of why they are who they are.”

Interestingly, among the several characters who wander through time in season 2, Joy is the only one who does not begin her journey by falling through the hole in the west pasture — she arrives in the past by following a path, searching for answers. In a show that grapples with the question of fate or a higher power, Podemski likes to think that Joy was guided by something.

“I do think the hole, the void, the past… [it] comes to people when they need it. And I'm so grateful, because I really wanted her to be the hero that she's meant to be.”

Outer Range season 2 is now streaming on Prime Video.

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