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Dark Winds Proves Itself a TV Noir Mainstay in Its Second Season

Genre television has always been on the outs. While many have maintained strong ratings and critical success, more often than not, these stories are shut out and not viewed as prestige TV. AMC+ appears to be changing that though, with last year's “Interview with the Vampire” surprising longtime fans as well as critics, and “Dark Winds” being a major hit since its debut. 

This season of “Dark Winds” is no different, allowing the world it's set in to breathe, and to be fully realized as a world imbued with noir, thriller, and even sci-fi elements. It’s what made the first season so successful last year—that and its wonderful cast—and it's what allows the second season to remain true to itself. With the introduction of a sinister new threat, it becomes clear that Season Two of “Dark Winds” will be bigger and darker than its predecessor. 

The show's first episode gets us right back into the swing of things with the mystery that has long plagued our main characters and refuses to let them go. Although this time, the crime feels different. When we first meet Joe (Zahn McClarnon), Bernadette (Jessica Matten) and Jim (Kiowa Gordon) again, they are fractured from each other. Joe is clearly still reeling from the horror the previous case made him confront, and becomes more unraveled as the season goes on. As the main mystery is revealed to be connected to his past, it's clear he cannot let go, no matter how dangerous the outcome may be.

Jim on the other hand is still working for people who aim to use him as a crutch for their own gains with no regard for his personal feelings or wellbeing. On the other side of his arc is his relationship with Bernadette, one of the best aspects of the series. Their burgeoning relationship showcases the stellar chemistry between Gordon and Matten, the two trading melancholy jabs with each other as often as they do longing smiles. It’s a heartening break from the rest of the season's fast-paced plot, letting us rest alongside the two characters and bask in their charm.

For the most part though, this season of “Dark Winds” operates at a breakneck pace. The show is almost better for it though, with this season's seemingly unstoppable Terminator-like villain feeling like he stepped straight out of an ‘80s sci-fi show. He feels unstoppable and almost inhuman at times, unwavering in his persistence to wreak havoc upon everything and everyone in his way. 

The villain's plot shares a dark connection to Joe, one which causes the lieutenant to unravel like we’ve never seen before. He abandons any semblance of caution, proving that everything we know about the famed lieutenant Leaphorn has only scratched the surface to what he is capable of. Zahn McClarnon plays Joe with an air of assurance that slowly gives way to desperation: his lips snarls in frustration and his eyes slowly mirror pools of black. He continues to give one of the finest performances on television, and one we can only hope will soon be recognized as such.

The scope of this season is bigger as well. From side characters like Joe’s wife Emma (Deanna Allison) finally being allowed to shine, to well-crafted action sequences, “Dark Winds” is finally able to flourish with the scale it was meant for. The most impressive aspect—outside of the main trio’s acting—is a thrilling neon-soaked chase scene that takes place in a hospital. It’s one of the most impressive scenes not just in the season, but the show's brief history.

It feels like a miracle something like “Dark Winds” even exists: one part standard procedural drama and one part science fiction novel come to life. It's a show that seems in step with that of HBO’s “True Detective,” yet it operates with a staggering amount of heart. The second season doubles down on a thread from the first about the forced sterilization of Indigenous women, adding not just to a central character's plot but the overall impact of the show as well. Season Two may have widened its scope in terms of its fantastical elements and its action, but it is also unwavering in its statements about sovereignty and colonialism.

With this season of “Dark Winds,” AMC+ proves to be a champion of diverse genre stories that make an impact, and ones that cultivates a loyal audience. From children confusing mercenaries for astronauts to solar eclipses and moon landings, this second season maintains its vintage feel while also proving itself as one of the best series currently airing. The story and its characters are allowed to get darker, which in turns allows them to maintain a heightened emotional tether to the audience. As each character, even those who were only supporting in the first season, becomes more fleshed out, the show and the world it operates in does too. 

Whole season was screened for review. Season Two of “Dark Winds” premieres July 27th on AMC+ and July 30th on AMC.

Kaiya Shunyata

Kaiya Shunyata is a freelance pop culture writer and academic based in Canada. They have written for RogerEbert.com, Xtra, Okayplayer, The Daily Beast, AltPress and more. 

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