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Zahn McClarnon is riveting as tribal detective in AMC’s ‘Dark Winds’

Zahn McClarnon in "Dark Winds."Michael Moriatis/Stalwart Productions/AMC/Associated Press

It’s worth mentioning once again the wonderfully centered, lived-in performance by Zahn McClarnon in AMC’s evocative mystery series “Dark Winds,” which is adapted from the fiction of Tony Hillerman. The 1971-set show takes place in the Navajo Nation, where McClarnon plays Tribal Police officer Joe Leaphorn, a smart, weary veteran cop. It’s a whodunit of sorts, but, more compellingly, it’s a story strewn with its detectives’ personal demons, family histories, and, most of all, Native American identities.

By the way: The show, which premiered on June 12, has already been renewed for a second season.

McClarnon is perfect in the role of a man forced to navigate the difficulties of simultaneously protecting his people while policing them. He moves deliberately throughout the beautifully shot series, watching everyone carefully, picking out every clue he can, doggedly pursuing the leads that he has to coax out of unwilling witnesses. He’s mesmerizing, with his steady eyes, as he and new partner Jim Chee (Kiowa Gordon) try to solve local murders that may be tied to a nearby armored truck robbery.


As a father and husband, McClarnon’s Leaphorn is far more complicated and messy, but no less riveting. He is still tormented by the loss of a family member, but he works to control those feelings — until, of course, he can’t. You can see the decades of hard living, loss, and suppressed anger on his face, despite its often calm expression and intense focus. McClarnon, who has been in season 2 of “Fargo,” “Longmire,” and “Reservation Dogs,” is a revelation as a leading man.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.