Dark Winds Season 1 Spoiler-Free Review

Based on the books by Tony Hillerman and from executive producers Robert Redford and George R.R Martin, Dark Winds season 2 is just about to land on TV, and the unmissable first season is now out on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

Set in 1971 Kayenta, we’re introduced to long-standing Navajo police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn (Zahn McClarnon), struggling to be accepted by non-Navajo law enforcement and alienated from his family as he is seen as turning his back on his kin. The sleepy town gets a violent shake with a daring armoured car robbery, a double homicide of two members of the Navajo community, and a conspiracy surrounding an explosion at the local mining operation. Thankfully, Leaphorn has a new officer on the team in the form of Jim Chee (Kiowa Gordon), but there’s more to Chee than meets the eye.

While the investigation into a double murder takes centre stage, there is more going on that fills these carefully constructed six episodes. We learn as much about the Navajo community as we get a first-rate mystery series with plenty of twists, and that’s where Dark Winds shines brightest. While it’s a serious series by all accounts, Rainn Wilson’s recurring role as odious used car salesman Dan “Devoted Dan” DeMarco offers some fun, but he is a genuinely awful character in all other respects.

Zahn McClarnon has long deserved a leading role in something big; his excellent supporting turns in Reservation Dogs and Mike Flannagan’s Doctor Sleep further highlight that he needed a leading role. Perfectly cast as Leaphor, McLarnon has been given one heck of a part, and he doesn’t waste a second of screen time.

This isn’t the first time Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee book series has been adapted with the help of Robert Redford. More than 30 years ago in 1991, Redford produced what he hoped would be the first in a series of adaptations with The Dark Wind. Lou Diamond Philips starred as Chee, with the late Fred Ward as Leaphorn. Sadly, the movie didn’t find an audience, but a decade later, Redford executive produced a TV movie adaption of Skinwalkers, which starred Wes Studi as Leaphorn, and Adam Beach as Chee; they had more success with this version as two more TV movies were made.

It’s a tragic and inescapable fact that depictions of Indigenous Americans in movies and TV shows of yesteryear were less than respectful or realistic and only served to reinforce negative stereotypes. I understand everything is a product of its time; holding a 70-year-old Cowboy movie to today’s standards is only going to do so much; what we need is more stories, truthfully told, that have an understanding of the culture and heritage.

Already renewed for a third season, this debut run is a gripping thriller authentically told from the Indigenous Americans’ perspective, powered by a flawless performance from Zahn McClarnon. Dark Winds deserves to be your next binge-watch.

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