Dark Winds is the latest US Indigenous television series that has captivated the world. Much different than its comedic counterparts, Dark Winds takes a more serious look at life on the reservation. The series is set in the 1970’s, on the Diné reservation in Arizona and follows the lives of Diné sheriff Joe Leaphorn (Zahn McClarnon), undercover FBI agent Jim Chee (Kiowa Gordon) and the Diné community they serve. Dark Winds also stars Deanna Allison, Jessica Matten and Elva Guerra. A. Martinez, Jeri Ryan, Nicholas Logan and Joseph Runningfox join the cast in season two. 

In season one, two crimes happen immediately. A bank robbery that the FBI is investigating throughout the season. The bank robbery leads FBI agents to the Diné reservation. They send a Diné agent, Chee, to pose as a tribal cop. Meanwhile Leaphorn starts an investigation of a double homicide with an interesting connection to witchcraft. Throughout the course of both investigations, Leaphorn and Chee discover the two crimes are related. And that’s where the story gets a little convoluted. 

A helicopter was used to escape the bank robbery and ends up in a lake on the reservation. The suspects’ hideout is also located on the reservation. And one of the suspects has ties to a woman on the reservation, who just might be a witch that killed the people in Leaphorn’s investigation. In the end, Leaphorn and Chee find the robbers and the killers, who are one in the same. Most of the bad guys are killed, but a couple of them actually survive. Either way, justice is served.

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Season two picks up months later. Things have calmed down on the reservation until Jim Chee returns. Now a private investigator, Chee’s return brings a dangerous man to town. The main storyline is closely tied to some of the things from season one. Here are five things from season one you need to remember before season two begins.

B. J. Vines

Jeri Ryan as Rosemary Vines in Dark Winds

Jeri Ryan as Rosemary Vines – Dark Winds _ Season 2, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Michael Moriatis/AMC

James Tso (Jeremiah Bitsui) and  Frank Nakai (Eugene Brave Rock) were a part of a group called the Buffalo Soldiers. They are also the robbers and murderers of season one. The two men paid a visit to a rich man by the name of B. J. Vines (John Diehl). Vines bought land where a mine is located, after the explosion. In season two, we meet B. J.’s wife, Rosemary, played by Jeri Ryan.

The Mine

The weekend before the mine explosion, some of the Diné gathered for a sweat ceremony. After the ceremony, a man named Dillon Charley (David Midthunder) warned Guy Atcitty (Ryan Begay). He didn’t say there would be an explosion, but told him to stay home with his family. Guy was saved, but several of the mine workers died. Including Leaphorn’s son, Joe Jr. 

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Death of a son

Season one established that Junior was Joe and Emma’s (Allison) only son. And that he died in the explosion. Neither of them really talk about it in season one, but it is something that lingers into season two. I have to mention that Joe Jr. is Joe and Emma’s only son. Emma was sterilized after she gave birth.

Female Strength

Elva Guerra as Sally Growing Thunder in Dark Winds

Elva Guerra as Sally Growing Thunder – Dark Winds _ Season 2, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Michael Moriatis/AMC

Emma took an interest in Sally Growing Thunder (Guerra) and her unborn child in season one. This may be in part because Sally is the daughter of the alleged witch and one of the robbers is the father of her baby. Also, Emma encouraged Sally not to have her baby on the reservation. In season two, Sally has given birth and they still live with Joe and Emma; something that Joe seems to have adjusted well to. Sally and her baby bring up some buried emotions for Joe and Emma.

And then there’s Bernadette Manuelito (Matten). Bernadette is a strong female character for the 1970s. She doesn’t back down from a case and in season two, proves that she’s a good fighter. Bernadette loves hard, but also recognizes when she needs to focus on herself. Which is what season two is for. We see more of Bernadette’s story and how she empowers herself. Bernadette has a strength that all Native women have, but is rarely seen on television.

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Zahn McClarnon as Joe Leaphorn in Dark Winds

Zahn McClarnon as Joe Leaphorn – Dark Winds _ Season 2, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Michael Moriatis/AMC

In season one, episode three, a young Diné girl goes through her coming of age ceremony, called Kinaaldá. There is no explanation about specifics of the ceremony, it’s just part of the show. And in my opinion, that’s how it should be. Season two features more Diné language, cultures and traditions, but no explanations. Which should be expected coming from a non-Native writer like Hillerman. Hillerman wrote about Diné people, but he is not Diné. However, there are Diné writers in the Dark Winds writing room who know how to incorporate just enough for authenticity, but not so much that the show loses non-Native viewers. 

The storyline in season two flows smoother. There is character growth that comes from the case Leaphorn and Chee are working on. But also, from what’s in their hearts. Emma’s growth comes from sadness, while Bernadette’s comes from strength. Throughout the series, we are reminded that these characters are just human. 

Dark Winds season two begins Sunday July 31 on AMC. You can watch season one on AMC+.

This article was originally posted on 7/29/23.

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