The Leaphorn & Chee book series from author, Tony Hillerman, has been adapted previously with the films The Dark Wind and Skinwalkers. AMC has another attempt to bring the characters of the fictional Navajo tribal police officers to live action with Dark Winds.
The series premiere begins with an outrageous and tense armored car heist that could feel at home within a Michael Mann project. The action serves as a good way to draw the viewers in while also leading us to the Navajo Nation, where the escaping helicopter passes through. That’s not the only excitement on the reservation as sometime later, gruesome murders occur at a hotel leaving only a single witness: an elderly and blind medicine woman. Looks like the local authorities will have their hands full.
Our first introduction to Officer Joe Leaphorn makes you believe he has his own justice. In a way he does but not as the first scene leads you to believe. He is very dedicated to his people and traditions and will toe the moral line with perpetrators for what he believes is right.
In Dark Winds, Zahn McClarnon proves he can be a leading man in the role. Despite being soft spoken and having a smaller stature, there is an attractive presence about him. In addition, he can hit the emotional beats of his character as we touch the surface of his tragic past and his connection with the family of one of the murder victims. There is a bit of a tortured soul within him.
The rest of the characters have interesting aspects as well. Leaphorn’s wife, Emma, is a nurse who is as intuitive as her husband. She is aware of the benefits of modern medicine but isn’t as trustful of the white doctors she works with. Bernadette Manuelito is the tough as nails sergeant and second in command while Jim Chee is the new young hotshot officer to the team.
Dark Winds provides an intriguing peek into the Navajo culture from ceremonies and practices to the everyday life. Despite the reservation being one of the largest in the United States, it has a very small town feel with everyone familiar with each other and a greater sense of community. There are also so many beautiful shots of the vastness of the land. With a writers’ room composed entirely of Native Americans, they treat these elements with respect to ensure an accurate and authentic experience.
That’s especially important as the show incorporates a supernatural aspect. It’s definitely perceived in the double homicide, but even more subtly afterwards during witness follow-ups and welfare checks. The audible noises of buzzing flies create an unsettling effect. Leaphorn and Manuelito’s trinkets and rituals of protection play with this theme further. It’s not the first time a crime psychological thriller has a paranormal slant, but the indigenous spirituality does offer something new.
Near the end of the episode, there are a few reveals to shake things up and establish directions in where Dark Winds can go for the rest of the season. Chee’s secret isn’t too surprising considering the timing of his appearance and his personality when we first meet him. The more curious revelation is the fate of the helicopter from the opening.
“Monster Slayer” kicks off an appealing crime noir series with a captivating lead and a focus on highlighting Native American culture.
Catch new episodes of Dark Winds on AMC+ or Sunday nights on AMC.
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