Atmosphere goes a long way in “Dark Winds,” a brooding crime series set on Native-American tribal land in the 1970s that’s part “True Detective,” and with its vaguely mystical vibe, part “Twin Peaks.” Featuring Native-American talent in front of and behind the camera, it’s a solid mystery that’s better during its wide-open-spaces buildup than the somewhat messy finish.
Counting Robert Redford and “Game of Thrones’” George R.R. Martin among its producers, the six-episode show creates a welcome starring vehicle for Zahn McClarnon (“Fargo,” “Westworld”) as Joe Leaphorn, who is one of a few dozen police officers assigned to patrol thousands of dusty, visually striking acres.
Leaphorn is joined by a new deputy, the ambitious Jim Chee (Kiowa Gordon), who is ominously told by a colleague, Bernadette (Jessica Matten), “Out here, sometimes your best protection isn’t your .38.”
Created by Graham Roland and adapted from Tony Hillerman’s novels about Navajo detectives, the slightly convoluted plot involves a tourist family that buys the wrong painting, and an unsolved bank heist that left behind unfound loot and still commands the interest of an FBI agent (“The Americans’” Noah Emmerich) operating in the area.
Leaphorn and his wife (Deanna Allison), meanwhile, are recovering from a personal tragedy, with McClarnon’s pained expressions every time his family history comes up doing a lot of work in conveying the mileage that the character carries.
As noted, “Dark Winds” is distinguished more by its introduction to a particular place and time than the central mystery, a moment far enough back where references to magic feel more plausible. There are also pointed reminders of past transgressions against this community, such as a pregnant woman being warned about forced sterilization if she has her baby in the hospital.
The series serves as another solid showcase for Native-American talent in a way that has proven historically elusive in Hollywood, joining recent productions like the FX series “Reservation Dogs,” in which McClarnon co-stars, and “Rutherford Falls.” (Redford acquired the rights to Hillerman’s books in the 1980s and spent years shopping the project before aligning with Martin and finding a taker.)
AMC is at something of a crossroads, with two of the network’s signature series, “The Walking Dead” and “Better Call Saul,” soon coming to an end. Those kind of franchises aren’t easily replaced, but with something like “Dark Winds,” the network’s development efforts at least appear to be drifting in the right direction.
“Dark Winds” premieres June 12 at 9 p.m. ET on AMC, with advance access on AMC+.
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