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Dark Winds: Season 1 (15) Home Ents Review

Dir. Various, US, 2022, 360 mins

Cast: Zahn McClarnon, Kiowa Gordon, Jessica Matten, Deanna Allison

Review by Colin Dibben

Spotless, seamless perfection, Dark Winds is all you could hope for from a streaming series. And don’t worry if your faith in the po-po isn’t what it used to be and has spoiled your appetite for police dramas. I wager that you’ll fall for the 1970s Navajo nation setting and the way officer of the Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn (McClarnon) of the Tribal Police sticks it to The Man.

Slick new deputy Jim Chee (Gordon) arrives to join Leaphorn and Deputy Bernadette Manuelito (Matten) as they patrol the 27,000 miles of desert that are home to the Navajo, or Diné as they call themselves.

Leaphorn and his team look after a tight-knit community despite the distances, so when a double homicide takes place in a motel, Leaphorn is personally affected. The murders rake up ghosts from the past for Joe and his wife Emma (Allison) and highlight the tensions between police and the wider population.

But what’s the connection between the murders and the bank robbery which opens the show? And the indigenous activists who are trying to extort money from an oil company? What role are the Feds playing here? Why, as the investigation progresses, does Bernadette feel the baleful influence of a powerful witch?

Dark Winds has the slow pace I usually dislike in streaming drama, but here it works perfectly. The pace is indeed perfectly suited to the drama, not stretching the narrative but just letting it develop in the time it needs. I guess that is primarily about good plot and dialogue, but there is a well-paced stealth to the whole production, from plot to shots to performances.

All the lead actors are quiet revelations, although they each have extensive CVs in movies, TV and streaming. Even the supporting cast is great, with Jeremiah Bitsui, whom I recognised from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, dusting off his creepy act very nicely. All involved have Native American heritage where appropriate. As does series creator Graham Roland.

The natural backdrop plays a big part – this is Monument Valley territory, after all. And Navajo rituals and way of life are much in evidence too, which gives the show an added and unique interest. Most of the plot and characters comes from a 1978 Tony Hillerman novel, Listening Woman. Hillerman wrote 18 Leaphorn and Chee novels in all; his daughter Anne has written 8 follow-ons to date, which promote Bernadette to lead. Anne is also an executive producer on Dark Winds, along with Robert Redford and George R. R. Martin.

Which is a long-winded way of expressing the hope that this series runs and runs, keeping up the high production values all the way.

Dark Winds: Season 1 is out on DVD and Blu-ray from 27 November, and available on digital platforms from 18 October.