Dark Winds EP & Director Chris Eyre On The Journey Beyond Season 2
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Dark Winds EP & Director Chris Eyre On The Journey Beyond Season 2

Summary

  • Season 2 of Dark Winds has wrapped up, providing answers to the recent mystery while leaving room for future stories.
  • The show boasts a talented Native cast and crew, with heavy hitters George R.R. Martin and Robert Redford as producers.
  • The characters’ arcs and the authentic portrayal of Native American stories have made Dark Winds compelling and intriguing for viewers.
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    Dark Winds season 2 has come to a close all too soon, but “Beauty is Restored” was generous in offering as many answers as possible while still leaving a path forward. The AMC series, which has received plenty of critical acclaim, is based on the Leaphorn & Chee Navajo detective novels by Tony Hillerman (with his daughter Anne Hillerman continuing the series after his passing). With heavy hitters like George R.R. Martin and Robert Redford serving as producers, it’s no surprise that the show is such high quality — but what’s even more significant is the sheer amount of Native talent in front of and behind the scenes.

    Zahn McClarnon stars as Joe Leaphorn, a lieutenant on a 1970s Navajo reservation who is haunted by the recent death of his son, while Kiowa Gordon costars as Jim Chee, his ex-deputy who has become a private investigator. Dark Winds also incorporates several important female characters with rich arcs, including Sergeant Bernadette Manuelito (Jessica Matten), Joe’s wife Emma (Deanna Allison), and Sally Growing Thunder (Elva Guerra), the young mother they took into their home. Season 2 follows a new and complicated murder case, but one that still manages to connect back to the Drumco oil rig explosion that took the life of the Leaphorns’ son.

    Related: When Does Dark Winds Take Place? The AMC Show’s Time Period Explained

    Screen Rant spoke to EP Chris Eyre about collaborating with the Dark Winds team to push season 2 even further into film noir, setting up the tone of the season and character arcs when directing the first two episodes, and building a finale that leaves the door open for the possibility of more seasons to come. Editor’s Note: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, and the show covered here would not exist without the labor of the writers and actors in both unions.

    Chris Eyre Talks Dark Winds Season 2

    chris eyre behind the scenes of dark winds 201

    Screen Rant: As both producer and director, how do you ensure that you’ve set the tone that you really want for this season in the episodes you direct?

    Chris Eyre: I feel like in season 2, we really assembled a fuller team with John Wirth and Billy Luther, who’s one of our directors and is Navajo. Michael Nankin did a great job on episodes 3 and 4, and I feel like we’ve really found our feet with the characters and their arcs. I had a friend of mine say, “I just want to know what happens to the characters,” and that’s kind of a relief because you’re seeing that people just relate to what happens in these characters’ lives and stories. That’s kind of where I think we’ve gotten to with season 2.

    I really am invested in the characters. I want to know what happens to Bernadette. She goes away and what happens to her? I want to know if she makes it on the border. I want to know what the outcome of Joe Leaphorn’s moral compass is after he’s made Vines do the longest walk. I want to know how Emma feels about her family, and I want to know what happened to Sally. I feel like we found our feet with season 2, and I feel like we haven’t hit our stride.

    Basically, as an executive producer, it’s really about letting and helping all these talented people do what they do best – myself included as a director. I think that we’re all in it as a group and a team, and we really feel comfortable in trying to make the series as good as we can and in showing Native characters as three-dimensional people. It’s an exciting drama with levity and humor, and then also crazy chases with crazy people in the southwest in the 1970s with great ’70s music.

    I love that you brought up Bernadette and Sally. I was stressed all season long about Bernadette potentially leaving for border patrol, and then she took the job. But this is not a situation of the actor having to leave or anything, right? It sounds like you plan to follow her story there.

    Chris Eyre: I would agree totally. When we finish six, it’s like, “Well, I guess we’re going to the border.” Because we’re not leaving Bernadette. Bernadette is so great, and I want to know what happens on her journey.

    I talked to Jessica about how she has two endings, which is such a beautiful thing. She says goodbye to Leaphorn, and she says goodbye to Chee. Then she has this incredible shot where she drives off, and it’s like The Graduate, where they sit at the back of the bus and go, “Now what?” She sits there in her car, she has the future in front of her, and she’s like, “Now what? My life is taking a new turn.” But she’s brave enough to take it, and it’s kind of beautiful.

    colton and bernadette in dark winds 205

    I also really enjoy how we work backward in season 2, where we meet Colton Wolf from the start, and we have to figure out what his place is in this mystery. What inspired his black-and-white introduction as well as the reverse engineering of the season?

    Chris Eyre: Well, the whole season was inspired by the first season, and I think we just built out more of the film noir. When we started to identify the film noir more, we came up with the black-and-white aspect to really charge the film noir with a bit of that Touch of Evil or Maltese Falcon vibe. Film nor, police detective, stark drama… It was all born out of that milieu.

    The interesting thing was that John Wirth and Peter Chomsky started to colorize elements within the black-and-white frames. The way those played was like, “Okay, that’s an important clue. The blue wires and the red fingernails; the blue eyes and the red jacket.” And as we got going on season 2, they started to play with time. One of my favorite aspects of the opening of the season 2 premiere is that episode 4 hearkens back to it, where you see the inside of the trailer and Colton Wolf is sitting there as Bernadette and Leaphorn drive up. He looks, he turns out the lights, and he has a hatch door that we didn’t realize he had in episode 1. So, he escapes out of the hatch, comes back, and blasts the trailer. It’s the opening of episode 1, but we see it hearken back in episode 4.

    We started to shift the chronology of the story, and I think that all of it lends itself to the noir mystery and drama of Dark Winds. We just kept playing with it; a lot of people helped, and we all made something interesting.

    What you said earlier about really being invested in the characters is so right, because I was just as invested in Emma’s resistance to the LA Times reporter’s piece about the Family Planning Services Act as I was in the main mystery. Can you talk about where she is at the end of season 2, given what she and Joe learn about their son’s death and how she feels about the work she’s doing with women on the reservation?

    Chris Eyre: It’s amazing because Emma comes from a matriarchal Diné culture, and Deanna Allison is that woman. She’s a Diné woman who speaks Navajo, and she’s on this incredible journey where you’re getting to see the sausage being made in real-time. I think if anything, she’s going to make it through that journey just because I’m observing her processing it.

    At the beginning of episode 1, she doesn’t ask Joe about the ceremony. That was something important when I was directing the scene. As we were playing it, she said, “I need to not pose it as a question.” Because she’s a matriarch, and she’s a powerful woman. So, she started to play with it, and ultimately it came out like, “We’re having a ceremony.” She exits the truck, and Joe Leaphorn sits there and is like, “Yeah, that means that we’re doing this.” He knows his wife.

    It’s those little shifts in her persona and the way that she performs are so critical to her as a matriarchal Navajo woman. As I look at her arc, I’m really hopeful, and I know that she’s going to be okay. I think that Joe and Emma provide this moral compass – I mean, you want those people to be your grandparents or your aunt and uncle. That’s the beauty of it; you trust them and what they’re in for, and you trust what their choices are. That’s kind of what we’re building for these are Native characters that are similar to any other characters. We’re just building a family.

    I think Emma’s going to be great. And Sally’s arc is cool too. I remember that one shot where she leaves with the baby on her back, and this baby was almost performing for the camera. I just think of Sally as a strong Native woman who is walking out the door at the crossroads of her life. It’s a point of pride for the series that Emma, Sally, and Bernadette are all strong, Native female characters.

    emma, joe & sally in dark winds 206 Credit: Michael Moriatis/AMC

    Sally’s departure is really affecting because it comes on the heels of her confronting Emma about what she wants for her life and feeling constrained by the Leaphorns in a way that she didn’t expect to. What can you say about their role in her life now, and the effect her departure has on them? Especially because she and her baby have almost been filling the hole that Joe Jr.’s death left behind.

    Chris Eyre: That’s what I’m interested to see. What happens to Joe and Emma now? And to everybody. There was one scene in episode 4, I think it is, that was literally so uncomfortable and so dramatic. Sally talks about how her child is going to realize that she didn’t do this and do that right; that they will be ashamed, and it’s just so difficult to hear. It’s almost a postpartum thing, and it is real. This is a young girl who’s going through the ups and downs of having a child and trying to navigate the waters. I just sit there in that scene, and I say, “Wow, I love this character. I want Sally to make it.”

    The show just has these moments of reality that I haven’t seen before. That scene in particular? My heart really aches for Sally because I can imagine how many people go through that, being a young mother under those circumstances.

    As the show progresses and the team gets larger, you also get to be more involved in the intricacies of Navajo or Diné culture. How do the actors themselves collaborate with your team? Are there times when you’re negotiating certain moments for a character that the actor has input on?

    Chris Eyre: Absolutely. All of us want to see what the writers come up with, and our writers’ room is largely Native American. Like I said with Sally talking about how her child’s going to be ashamed of her, I just have never seen that before. It really just leapt off the screen for me that this is a real drama about Native Americans. Our Native writers and John Wirth and the team are coming up with these incredible scenarios that hadn’t been seen before.

    And then the performers come in. Zahn McClarnon pulled me back from something at the end of episode 6. He said, “My character wouldn’t do that,” when I was ready to run down the road and let Leaphorn take vengeance on Vines. After a couple of days in production, Zahn said, “I can’t do that.” It was the scene where Joe was about to shoot Vines, and at one point he actually was going to take vengeance.

    I was a Game of Thrones guy, and George R.R. Martin is one of our producers, so I said, “Yeah, let’s go for it!” But Zahn saved me from myself and saved the team. Zahn said, “Leaphorn wouldn’t do that,” so we didn’t. I mean, they’re characters, but it’s also an exploration of trying to find the authentic story and trying to find the Native American people within these stories.

    Given what a huge success season 2 has been, how long do you see the show going? What is your vision for that overarching journey?

    Chris Eyre: I know I could keep doing the show for years and years. There’s certainly enough source material, there’s certainly enough good books, and Anne Hillerman is writing more. It’s just a matter of where these character arcs go, and in my mind, they have arcs that can go several years and be very interesting and compelling.

    Most of all, you just want to see what happens with each one of them individually. I really am affectionate towards all the characters by the end of episode 6. I watch them ride off on the motorcycle and I say, “Okay, where’s the next one? Where’s the next episode?”

    About Dark Winds Season 2

    joe & colton in dark winds 205

    Lt. Joe Leaphorn (McClarnon), reunites with Jim Chee (Gordon), his former deputy turned private eye, when their separate cases bring them together in pursuit of the same suspect. They find themselves in the high desert of Navajo Country chasing a killer who’s turned his sights on them to protect a secret that rips open old wounds and challenges Leaphorn’s moral and professional code. With the help of Sgt. Manuelito (Matten) and Valencia County Sheriff Gordo Sena, Leaphorn and Chee must thwart their would-be assassin and restore balance not only to their own lives, but to the reservation that depends on them.

    All episodes of Dark Winds are now streaming on AMC+.

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