Dark Winds – Season 1 Episode 1 “Monster Slayer” Recap & Review


The new AMC exclusive is based on the Leaphorn & Chee book series from author, Tony Hillerman. ‘Dark Winds’ is not the first dramatized iteration of the books, hence placing further pressure on it to perform.

The first episode is titled “Monster Slayer” but it doesn’t have any monsters. No guesses for who “it” is, then.

The series stars Zahn McClarnon, Kiowa Gordon, Jessica Matten, and Noah Emerich in lead roles and is a six-part series. Another thing to watch out for is that Robert Redford and George RR Martin are also part of the slew of executive producers on the show.

Monster Slayer

Episode 1 of Dark Winds starts off in 1971. The place is Gallup, New Mexico. It is a pleasant Friday afternoon. Police officers escort bank security personnel as they make the routine money transfer.

In between their voyage, a helicopter flies in and blocks them off at the intersection. Yes, a heist sequence kicks off ‘Dark Winds’ first episode. A car with armed men capitalizes from behind, killing the security personnel and police guards. The old “thief in the uniform” trick does the job. The helicopter flies towards the north, into the Navajo territory, as we see a man watch it go over.

Three weeks later, authorities spring into action. But we get our first character introduction: Lieutenant Leaphorn. First impressions wouldn’t lead you to guess him as a man of uniform. His stare and style indicate a seasoned toughness that makes the bad guys weak in their hearts. Zahin seems like the perfect choice to play Leaphorn.

Although the Lieutenant is a capable and menacing lawman, he also has a softer, honest side. We will get to see more of it due to his vulnerable connection to the case. He is posted as a part of the Tribal Police sub-station in the Navajo Preservation.

The man we saw earlier watching the copter fly over is Hosteen Tso, from the Dine community. He belongs to Canyon de Chelle and makes the arduous journey to the Big Rock Motel. In the room, we see an Indian young girl greet him. From the looks of it, the ill man has come to visit a traditional healer.

In Native culture, the tradition is called a “sing” and the offeror has to offer a “token”. Hosteen offers a pair of black spectacles. Cut to, we see Leaphorn arrive at the motel, which has tragically turned into a murder scene. The healer is seen sitting in the lobby. Leaphorn inspects the room, brutally turned upside down. Hosteen has been killed savagely, his eyes gouged out and liver extracted from his body.

In the bathroom, Leaphorn sighs as he sees the girl, Anna Attcity, dead. It is pertinent to mention here that the girl is someone very close to Leaphorn, and the healer, is Margaret, Anna’s grandmother. Leaphorn escorts Margaret back to her family’s establishment in the desert. He breaks the news to Guy and Helen, Anna’s parents.

At this point, we also learn that Leaphorn is not viewed positively in his community. He was a part of it earlier but went to college – Arizona State University – and joined the force. There was something else that happened too. The specifics are yet unknown, but the general disposition of the community is not too bright towards him.

A catch with Margaret is that she is blind. Hence, a confirmatory identification of the perpetrators cannot be done by her. Since the attack happened, she has been in shock. She hasn’t been able to speak, further compounding problems for Leaphorn.

Jim Chee, a young college graduate, walks into the station. He introduces himself as Deputy to Leaphorn. He is greeted by Lieutenant Manuelito. First impressions are again very positive; strong-headed, trained, compassionate, and brave. Chee worked before at Windo Rock but has been posted here to help in the investigation. Father Benjamin, Hosteen’s grandson, arrives at the station but does not do much. Just an introduction to his character.

Since homicide is a federal crime, the FBI has jurisdiction over the case. Leaphorn and Chee travel up to the morgue to show the body to Special Agents Whitover and Springer. Leaphorn fondly (or aversely) calls them High Pockets and Low Pockets, respectively. The tension between the men is obvious.

There are no points for guessing the root of the animosity is the divergence in priorities for their respective communities and cultures. Agents inspect the bodies and try to ascertain the cause of death for Anna. They take the bodies back to Flagstaff.

Agent Whitover and Lieutenant Leaphorn strike a deal to help each other with investigations of the murder and the robbery. A brief sequence also introduces us to Sally Growing Thunder, a young pregnant girl, at a clinic, being advised by the Indian nurse, Emma, to have the baby at home.

“Monster Slayer” Ending Explained

Emma is Leaphorn’s wife and asks him to check on Sally. Leaphorn is still emotional over Anna’s death. He asks Chee and Manuelito to check on her. Quite strangely, we see that Sally’s mother knows black magic and can control evil spirits. Manuelito offers Sally help and wisdom, but she is reluctant.

We also see an unidentified gunman in their backyard, ready to shoot an unsuspecting Chee probing around. But Manuelito calls him just in time. She tells him at a distance from the car that he must have his medicine roll with him at all times; it might prove to be more valuable than .38 revolver in those parts. Chee is actually put by Whitover in the police station to help find the helicopter. He reports directly and only to him. Chee is a Special Agent, ergo, FBI. He is undercover in the force.

The final sequence of the episode sees Leaphorn visit Father Benjamin’s house. He isn’t home. Leaphorn looks around and smells something strange in the water. He tracks the source to a waterbody behind the house. The smell matches.

We then see under the water, that the helicopter from the robbery has crashed. A dead man lies inside it; a white helmet, with the initials CW is in focus. Leaphorn must have smelled the fuel from the helicopter.

We still do not know how it got there and what is the meaning of C.W. Maybe the next episode will provide more insight.

The Episode Review

“Monster Slayer” is an extremely strong start for the series. The brightest aspect is that the adaptation of the book is done by Native writers, who have a complete and positive understanding of their culture and all its traditions.

Little details like the “medicine roll” really add a lot of authenticity to the representation of the Dine community on screen. ‘Dark Winds’ seems to have taken a firm commitment to portraying two equally strong individuals – Leaphorn and Whitover – to dramatize the years of conflict between the communities.

The “murder vs. robbery” importance trope is also a narrative tool for the writers to depict the conflict.

Episode one of ‘Dark Winds’ provides compelling storytelling. It is paced to perfection and seldom veers off its path. The amount of information dispelled is just enough to give the mystery of the two core incidents a strong flavor.

Mind you, this is a serious show that has got something profound to say. An instant watch, in my opinion. There is just one caveat. The series must not make the same mistakes ‘Little Big Man’ – which is also cleverly referenced in the opening sequences as playing in the theatres – did in skewing the representation. While at the same time, there must be no compromise with the truth.

Next Episode

You can read our full season review for Dark Winds Season 1 here!


  • Episode Rating

10 thoughts on “Dark Winds – Season 1 Episode 1 “Monster Slayer” Recap & Review”

  1. It’s a great show. It is not a documentary so perhaps some things were not on point. When I watch a show of this caliber, I watch it 4 the story and whether it engages me 100% and this one does. The casting was perfect and I would recommend it with 5 stars.

  2. I lived on the Navajo Reservation and in Gallup for 12 years, starting in 1971. I loved that they used the Navajo language, but oh my gosh they got so much wrong. The Navajo homes were wrong, wouldn’t last a winter and everyone would freeze. No Navajo man would have been seen in Jim Chee’s haircut. They were either long with a headband or military short. The magic was wrong. Leaphorn’s hat was wrong. And no Navajo, let alone Jim Chee, would have passed a car in trouble without helping. There’s so much wrong, without getting into how far it is from Hillerman’s novels. I was so disappointed.

  3. Wow. I’ve been reading about Leaphorn. Manuelito and Chee for years but never imagined I’d see them on tv. Love hearing the Dine language spoken. Can’t wait for another season.

  4. Gee…thanks
    Episode one doesn’t work on my vod the volume is messed up so I came looking for a recap so I could watch the series. Your recap though very detailed also however contained spoilers for every single episode from this to the fourth. Might want to mention that.

  5. It’s high pockets and low pockets, not big pockets and small pockets. I was very surprised to see the obvious fake scenery through the car’s windows in all of the many driving scenes.

  6. Loved it as the native culture is not trashed but honestly shown. I am torn between how much of the sacret, not secret part off the culture should be revealed and shared. Looking forward to the next installment.

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