Sharing some behind-the-scenes stories about the terrific AMC series.
Naturally, we had to begin our phone conversation with Dark Winds executive producer Chris Eyre by asking the burning question on everyone’s mind: When we will hear about a premiere date for Season 3?
“Hey,” Eyre replied with a hearty chuckle, “I thought you were going to tell me.”
Unfortunately, there hasn’t yet been an official announcement from anyone regarding the next cycle of the series that concluded its second season Sunday on AMC. To be sure, we’re not 100 percent sure that there actually will be a third season for the outstanding neo-Western crime drama based on the Leaphorn and Chee novels by Tony Hilerman. But considering that viewership for Season 2 has increased dramatically over Season 1 on both AMC and AMC+, it would appear to be a fairly safe bet that, once the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes are equitably settled, we’ll be seeing more of Zahn McClarnon (pictured above with Eyre) and the other Dark Winds regulars in 2024.
And that lead to the second burning question: What is Zahn McClarnon really like?
“What is he really like?” Eyre responded. “He is a funny, beautiful, deep well.”
Sounds right to us.
For the benefit of those who tuned in late: McClarnon stars in Dark Winds as Lt. Joe Leaphorn, a dedicated Navajo Police peacekeeper in 1971 Arizona. Working out of Kayenta, a town in Navajo County, Joe seeks to solve crimes with the help of Jim Chee (Kiowa Gordon), his sometime deputy, and Sgt. Bernadette “Bernie” Manuelito (Jessica Matten), his longtime friend and colleague. Throughout Seasons 1 and 2, Joe and his beloved nurse wife Emma (Deanna Allison) have been haunted by the death of their son Joe Jr. in an oil drilling site explosion four years earlier. Fairly early on in the series, Joe deduced that the explosion was not an accident. During Season 2 …
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW
Joe, Chee and Bernie connected the dots that linked the tragedy to a cold-blooded assassin whose name may or may not be Colton Wolf (Nicholas Logan), and the killer’s amoral employer, millionaire BJ Vines (John Henry Diehl). Ultimately, Vines killed Wolf, Joe abandoned Vines in the desert to die — and Bernie, despite her strong regard for Joe, left to pursue career opportunities with the Border Patrol. But not, it should be noted, before giving Chee a long kiss goodbye before they drove their separate ways.
Cowboys & Indians: To be totally honest, we feared that in the very last scene of the episode, Vines would stagger out of the desert and get in the way of Bernie’s departure.
Chris Eyre: [Laughs] What I thought might happen is, after that scene where you see Joe and Emma riding happily through the countryside on Joe’s motorcycle, there would be a quick cut to Chee. And he takes a U-turn, spins his car around real quick, like he’s going after Bernie. And you’d be like, “Ahhh!”
C&I: Well, at least we got to see Joe and Emma enjoying themselves.
Eyre: Yeah, Emma and Joe are this family unit that’s going to survive, we hope. And after the arcs that we’ve built in these past two seasons, I just want to see what’s going to happen next.
C&I: What would you say the second season has told us about Joe and Emma that we didn’t know before?
Eyre: It told us that they both have boundaries, and that they’re both survivors. I mean, Emma said, “This family’s going to have a ceremony because we’re out of balance,” and she’s the matriarch who sticks with it and guides them in their family unit.
And then Joe is challenged in his boundaries by Vines, who he wants to shoot. But at the end of the day, he leaves it more to the natural world, which means Vines has to do what Joe’s ancestors did when they took The Long Walk. Joe leaves Vines to do his own long walk. And later, as Joe lies there in his bedroom and stares at the ceiling, you realize that this man has a lot of miles on him from boarding school, from reservation life, from the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, and you can start to assume where the lines in his face come from, and the depth of his character. Because he makes a moral choice.
So they both observe boundaries within Season 2. And we hope that they both make it. We’re rooting for them.
Eyre, an Oregon native and member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, made his first major impact as a filmmaker with Smoke Signals, the groundbreaking 1998 coming-of-age comedy-drama that was selected in 2018 for inclusion in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. Featuring Adam Beach, Irene Bedard, Gary Farmer, Tantoo Cardinal and Michael Greyeyes, it is generally acknowledged as the first feature-length film written, directed, and produced by Native Americans to reach a wide audience both in the United States and abroad.
Among Eyre’s subsequent films as a director: Skins (2002), starring Eric Schweig as a Lakota Sioux police officer struggling to help his alcoholic Vietnam vet brother (Graham Greene); Edge of America (2003), a fact-based drama starring James McDaniel (NYPD Blue), C&I reader favorite Wes Studi and Deanna Allison about a Black educator’s experiences as coach of the girls basketball team at the Three Nations Reservation; Skinwalkers (2002) and A Thief of Time (2003), two earlier films based on Tony Hillerman’s crime novel series, starring Wes Studi as Joe Leaphorn and Adam Beach as Jim Chee; and A Year in Mooring (2011), known as Hide Away after its SXSW Film Festival premiere, starring Josh Lucas — yes, the same actor who went on to play young John Dutton in Yellowstone — as a guilt-ridden businessman who tries to overcome painful memories of a terrible tragedy while living aboard a decrepit sailboat he’s slowly restoring.
Eyre, who also has several credits in episodic television, signed on as executive producer of Dark Winds in 2022 alongside such notables as Robert Redford (who also produced Skinwalkers and A Thief of Time), Zahn McClarnon, and Game of Thrones novelist George R.R. Martin. He has directed seven episodes, including the Season 2 finale.
C&I: A Martinez has been a terrific addition to the cast this season as Sheriff Gordo Sena. For one thing, it’s great to see Zahn McClarnon reunited with his Longmire co-star. And the two actors really bring out the best in each other. Like during their final scene together in the Season 2 finale, when you think he’s about to tell Joe he should hide somewhere after killing Vines.
Eyre: We talked a lot about that beforehand. Zahn plays it so well because you can just see Joe’s paralyzed while expecting Gordo to say something, anything, that might implicate him. He basically just stands there while Gordo goes, “Oh, that’s strange how Vines disappeared without a trace. Yeah, that’s very strange.” And he just stops, and then says, “If I were you, I’d run…” And if you go back and look at it, you’ll see Zahn just freezes. It’s this great moment. And then Gordo says, “For my office in the fall.”
C&I: Of course, Martinez also brought something else to the table, the subtle hint that maybe, just maybe, Gordo is not working on the side of the angels.
Eyre: That's really good thinking. I mean, you’ve made me reconsider the world because you’re really right about that. Gordo Sena is somebody you want to trust, and he seems to be an equivalent to what Joe is on the reservation. But he happens to be the sheriff of the county, and he happens to be Hispanic, and Joe happens to be Dine’. I love that their interaction is such that, they’re peers, but they’re men of different places and different experiences. So I really think that’s an interesting observation that Gordo could have been something else.
C&I: And Joseph Runningfox is spot-on perfect as Henry Leaphorn, Joe’s disapproving dad. You really do believe these two guys are father and son.
Eyre: I know I did. I’d worked with Joseph Runningfox 20 years ago, and Zahn had also worked with him. He’s been around a long time. So Zahn and I decided we’d do a screen test with Joseph Runningfox as his father. And they did a scene — and it was so good. I sat back in my chair, and Zahn asked, “What do you think?” And I said, “Well, now I can see why you’re so messed up." I mean, it was just like, “Wow, this guy rode you your whole life as your dad, and now I get it.” I mean, they just clicked, just like that.
Photos: Michael Moriatis/AMC