Roger Ebert Home

The Tourist Returns for Tumultuous Second Season on Netflix

The first season of “The Tourist” was a clever little thriller over on Max, but that company continued its cavalcade of confusing choices and dumped the second outing, allowing the show to travel to Netflix, where it has been consistently in the top ten for the entirety of February as audiences caught up with year one. That fun season is now followed by a very twisted second one, a 6-episode outing that moves the action from Australia to Ireland—switching the title character if you think about it from one protagonist to the other—and upping the surreal, unpredictable sense of dark humor. It’s a bit of a rockier road in terms of quality, but there’s an admirable lunacy to the storytelling here that holds it together, throwing in new twists and memorable characters in a manner that’s reminiscent of prime Coen brothers, wherein one never knew what was going to happen next, and it was all darkly humorous at the same time. While Danielle Macdonald gets a little lost in the late-season emotion of this year, Jamie Dornan really holds it all together with a deceptively natural, engaging performance. It’s insane Max ever let him go.

The first season of “The Tourist” has a beautiful simplicity in its story of a man who wakes up after a car accident in the Outback with no idea of who he is or how he got there, only to discover that he may not like the guy he used to be. With so many questions answered in what could have been a self-contained season, one might wonder how they could do it again—amnesia a second time? The writers smartly move the action back to Elliot’s (Dornan) homeland in season two as he and Helen (Macdonald) travel there to learn more details about his dark past after receiving a mysterious photo. Before they even really get a pint in them, Elliot is kidnapped and thrown into the middle of a generation-spanning turf war between the families of the Cassidys and the McDonnells. The latter is led by the vicious Frank (Francis Magee) and the former by none other than our hero’s mother, Niamh (the excellent Olwen Fouéré).

A season that opens by separating its heroes and sending one to a remote island where he’s kept prisoner has about a dozen other twists up its sleeve that I wouldn't dare spoil here, as that's the joy of watching the show. Everyone on “The Tourist” hides an odd secret or two, even the seemingly ordinary detective (Conor MacNeill), who has something insane going on in his basement. When Helen sees her potential mother-in-law commit murder in the premiere it’s just the beginning of a series of narrative turns that stress that classic suspension of disbelief. “The Tourist” is like those page-turning novels you read on a beach, wherein each chapter ends with an insane new revelation that forces you to read the next before you question if it actually makes any sense at all. It’s really the show’s strength: A sense of breakneck plotting in an era when everyone feels like every show is a few episodes too long for its threadbare plot.

If the plotting is the strength, the emotions of the second season feel a bit like a weakness at times. The love story between Helen and Elliot takes center stage in rather intense ways, and it leads to a number of heartwrenching scenes, especially in the back half, that feel overly melodramatic. “The Tourist” is at its best when it’s not taking itself very seriously, having fun with its characters. Every time it diverts to really define Helen and Elliot’s eternal love, the seams in the writing start to show, and Macdonald gets lost a few times this season in overwrought melodrama that feels unearned. Luckily, she’s balanced by a truly great Dornan performance, one that seems to be honestly responding to every loony twist thrown his way. It’s more subdued that season one, allowing him to be the center as the chaotic world spins around him.

No one really understands what the heck is going on over at Max that they keep canceling movies and dropping content—an underreported recent head scratcher was allowing “Band of Brothers” to be on Netflix while “Masters of the Air” was dropping on Apple, which surely reignited interest in the original Playtone production in a manner that one would think would have sent people back to Max, but whatever. Letting “The Tourist” slide over to Netflix may be low on the list of their insane decisions of late, but it’s been funny to watch it slay for the competition, and it's hard to believe that the second season won’t do exactly the same. It’s funny to consider the executives who made the decision to let “The Tourist” go watching this effective second season on Netflix themselves, probably wondering why there aren’t more shows like it on Max.

Whole season screened for review. On Netflix February 29th.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

Latest blog posts

Latest reviews

We Grown Now
Blood for Dust
Dusk for a Hitman
Stress Positions
Hard Miles

Comments

comments powered by Disqus