Dark Winds Season 2 Ending Explained: Who’s Behind the Bombings?

The Dark Winds season 2 finale brings Joe Leaphorn to the brink. Here's how it all goes down.

Zahn McClarnon as Joe Leaphorn - Dark Winds _ Season 2, Episode 5
Photo: Michael Moriatis | AMC

This article contains spoilers for DARK WINDS season 2.

The acclaimed AMC+ neo-noir series Dark Winds, created by Graham Roland and based on the Leaphorn & Chee novel series by Tony Hillerman, has just wrapped its second season. Going deeper, darker, and more violent than its inaugural season, Dark Winds places protagonist Joe Leaphorn (Zahn McClarnon) on a more personal and grueling gauntlet that leads him to journey through his own heart of darkness. This isn’t to say that the second season is an introspective story, the season kicks off with a literal bang, but it does strike particularly closer to home for Leaphorn.

Drawing elements from Hillerman’s 1980 novel People of Darkness, the second season starts out with its two leads investigating different cases before inevitably bringing them back together. Introducing a new set of supporting characters, including a genuinely menacing antagonist in Colton Wolf (Nicholas Logan), things are deadlier than ever around the Navajo reservation. Here’s how Dark Winds Season 2 unfolds and ends, with the departure of at least one major character and a surprisingly lethal turn for Leaphorn before the credits roll.

The Story So Far…

Dark Winds takes place on a Navajo reservation in Arizona during the 1970s – no cell phones, internet, or GPS use towards solving crimes and getting out of mortal danger. Joe Leaphorn leads the local tribal law enforcement, including his trusty partner Bernadette Manuelito (Jessica Matten). Joe lives with his wife Emma (Deanna Allison), with the couple having lost their son several years prior, killed in what appeared to be an accidental explosion at a local oil drilling site.

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Jim Chee (Kiowa Gordon), an aspiring FBI undercover agent, gave up his ambitions to leave the reservation and resigned after exposing his corrupt boss. Recently enduring an acrimonious breakup with Manuelito, Chee now works around Arizona and the reservation as a private investigator. Meanwhile, Joe and Emma have welcomed teenage single mother Sally Growing Thunder (Elva Guerra) to live with them and help raise her infant child.

How Does Season 2 Begin?

While at the hospital, Emma is injured by a massive explosion from its parking lot, killing terminal cancer patient Emerson Charley as he attempts to access his car. Though initially assumed to be an accidental fuel line explosion, Leaphorn quickly deduces that it was the work of a bomb when investigating the scene. On the other side of town, Chee is hired by Rosemary Vines (Jeri Ryan) to recover a box stolen from her wealthy husband B.J. (John Diehl), a local business mogul who acquired the drilling site where Leaphorn lost his son after the tragedy.

Chee’s search leads him to reunite with Leaphorn, with the two men tracking down the box to a remote part of the desert where they’re attacked by a gunman named Colton Wolf. Leaphorn identifies Wolf as the bomber before he escapes while noticing that Wolf was burning the contents of the box, and is shocked that his late son’s belt buckle was included with it. Wolf proceeds to murder Emerson’s son Tomas Charley (Robert I. Mesa), nearly kills Tomas’ son Benny (Jet James Grant), and is wounded in an assassination attempt on Chee as the latter recovers in the hospital from being shot in the previous gunfight. In his escape, Wolf murders a security guard and police officer, in addition to a Navajo woman who cares for him, unaware of his murderous tendencies.

As Leaphorn studies the bombings more closely, he learns that not only was the drilling site explosion the work of a similarly crafted bomb but that Wolf was also the bomber responsible. Digging deeper, Leaphorn realizes that Wolf carried out the bombing that claimed his son under the orders of a mysterious benefactor. Pursuing Wolf into the desert, Leaphorn successfully apprehends him and brings him into police custody but not before severely breaking his wrist after jumping down a ravine as part of the chase.

Throughout the season, Wolf hires a string of private investigators to locate his long-lost mother, murdering them when they’re unsuccessful. A flashback to Wolf’s childhood reveals his mother killing his father and older sister in a violent fit before the young Wolf kills her himself. Not only does this showcase how deranged Wolf is, that he would still search for her decades later, but he maintains a metronome-like rhythm in his quiet moments to match an untended metronome in the house when he discovered his family was murdered.

Who Is Actually Behind the Bombings?

After escaping from police custody en route to a jail off the reservation, Wolf flees to his benefactor’s home, revealed to be B.J. Vines. After Wolf assures him that their connection remains a secret, Vines executes him to eliminate the last known conspirator. Four years prior, Emerson’s late brother Dylan supplied Vines with a geological report that revealed a uranium lode was located in the property where the drilling site was based. Vines hired Wolf to bomb the site and make it look like an accident to drastically lower the value of the land and make it easier for him to purchase, storing the geological report in his box along with the belt buckle as a twisted trophy.

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Aware of what Dylan helped facilitate with Vines, Emerson decided to expose the evil conspiracy after receiving his terminal cancer diagnosis rather than take the secret to the grave. Emerson had his son steal the box from Vines’ home, knowing what it contained, only to incur Vines’ lethal response with Wolf to silence them and anyone who could’ve come into contact with the box’s contents.

Using a copy of the original geological report, Leaphorn has Vines arrested for his orchestration of the bombing, however Vines is released on bail. Knowing that a wealthy white man will likely use all manner of legal trickery to avoid justice, Leaphorn kidnaps Vines from his home and drives him out to the middle of desert before abandoning him. With a particularly frigid winter settling sweeping across Arizona, Vines freezes to death in the wilderness that night.

What’s Next for Joe Jeaphorn?

Officially, Vines’ disappearance is attributed to him fleeing while on bail, though the police are puzzled his financial accounts remain untouched, with no evidence of any travel. Disgusted that Vines has seemingly evaded justice, Manuelito resigns from the tribal police to accept a job with the Border Patrol where she feels she can finally make a difference. Though upset by losing his trusted partner, Leaphorn does not share with her what actually happened to Vines. Replacing her is Chee, who decides to quit his private investigation business to officially join the tribal police.

In the aftermath, Leaphorn melts down his son’s belt buckle and fashions it into a feather. This mirrors the season 1 finale, with Leaphorn and Emma burning their son’s letterman jacket to reflect they were finally willing to openly mourn their loss together. However, the season 2 finale puts a more heartwarming button on this concept of moving on, with Leaphorn gifting the metal feather to Manuelito before she leaves the reservation signifying that he sees her as the daughter that he never had.

Dark Winds continues to lean into how indigenous people are used and abused by 20th century imperialism, with Vines personifying that evil. Whereas the first season made its antagonist corruption within the FBI, the second season opts for corporate malfeasance as its most explosively sinister. Leaphorn has avenged his son but he’s done so outside of the law that he swore to uphold and it cost him his longtime partner. Life on the reservation may still be a hard-earned one, but life does go on.

The first two seasons of Dark Winds are available to stream on AMC+.

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