Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (Sunday, 8 p.m., HBO) dramatizes Dee Brown's nonfiction book about the tragic collision of white and Native American culture as the U.S. expanded westward in the late 19th century. It begins with cinematic grandeur as the Sioux defeat Gen. Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn. A majestic aerial shot shows the warriors on horseback encircling the doomed cavalry.
But for the Indians, it's all downhill from there. The U.S. wants to get its hands on the gold in the Black Hills, treaties be damned. We follow three characters: a Dartmouth-educated Sioux doctor (Adam Beach) held up as proof that Indians can be assimilated; Sitting Bull (August Schellenberg), who resists the government's depredations; and Sen. Henry Dawes (Aidan Quinn), an architect of the U.S. policy toward Indians. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman (Colm Feore) also shows up to bluntly state the government position: "If we're ever going to claim what we bought from the French and whupped the Mexicans for, it's gonna mean killing Indians."
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee occasionally succumbs to a plodding earnestness, but you're willing to give it some leeway. Mostly it deserves credit for approaching this painful historical chapter with due respect.
Wife, Mom, Bounty Hunter
Friday, 8 pm (WE)
For part of the day, Sandra Scott is a wife and mother. She cooks breakfast for her teenage daughter, throws a birthday party for her baby, and gets her husband out the door for work. But then she straps on her bulletproof vest, loads her semi-automatic handgun and springs into action as a bounty hunter, tracking down criminals who jump bail.
This reality series chronicles Sandra's crazy life, split between domestic duties and perp-rustling. Will she be able to keep it all straight for the remainder of the season? Or will she inadvertently pull a handgun on the baby and throw a birthday party for the criminals?
Saturday, 8 pm (Sci Fi)
A team of brilliant scientists have found a way to collect "dark matter" in space. They use their handy Dark Matter Amplification System, which does its work amid beeping sounds and flashing lights. We're supposed to be in awe of the scientific genius on display, but Sci Fi's TV-movie budget extends only so far. The network couldn't afford elaborate sets or props, so the doomsday machine looks like something you or I could have hammered together in the basement. It's no surprise, then, when a scientist sets off a disastrous chain of events simply by jiggling the nozzle. The damn thing spits out a hunk of dark matter, and the scientist accidentally swallows it.
Yes, for brilliant scientists, these guys are pretty hapless. Attempting to probe the mystery of dark matter, one of them says, "I don't know, it's weird." Another gets mad and pushes a button that will destroy the world. That's right - it only takes one petulant scientist and one button.
How could a modern-day filmmaker try to pass off this Z-grade nonsense as a serious TV movie? I don't know, it's weird.
Divine Canine: With the Monks of New Skete
Monday, 7 pm (Animal Planet)
The monks of New Skete are an Eastern Orthodox sect who pass their time outside of prayers by training dogs. In this series, we watch Brother Christopher and his fellow monks work wonders with problem pooches at a 500-acre monastery in New York. You'd be surprised how quickly the threat of eternal damnation can get a cocker spaniel to pee on a newspaper.
Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed
Monday, 8 pm (History Channel)
The History Channel promises an intellectually ambitious analysis of the Star Wars saga, one that connects George Lucas' movies to politics, philosophy, religion and mythology. You have your doubts in the opening moments, though, as celebrity interviewees weigh in with less-than-perceptive commentary. Newt Gingrich should be barred from seeking elective office solely on the basis of his jejune comment: "I think George Washington would find in Star Wars a great deal that he would have agreed with." (I can just see Washington turning to Jefferson at the Valley Forge 8 Multiplex: "I agree with Han's decision to retool the hyperdrive on the Millennium Falcon!")
Fortunately, the celebrities soon disappear, replaced by critics who know what they're talking about. Over the course of two hours, they take us on a whirlwind journey through human experience, teasing out Star Wars' allusions to Shakespeare, the Bible, Homer, Greek myths and King Arthur.
It's all very impressive, though nobody acknowledges the 800-pound elephant in the room: the fact that the last three films sucked.
Thursday, 8 pm (Showtime)
This documentary tells the inspiring story of Mukhtaran Mai, the Pakistani woman who was gang-raped on order of her village's tribal council. The camera takes us through the bleached-out streets of Meerwala, where women are regarded as mere "tools of production." Mukhtaran met a common fate, dishonored as punishment for a crime committed by her brother.
Her response, though, was uncommon. She bucked the patriarchs by seeking justice in the Pakistani legal system. She won, made international headlines, and used the reparations money to set up her village's first school for girls.
The patriarchs won't approve, but let's all shout it in unison: You go, girl!