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The Tourist: Season One Review

“What shoots but never kills?”
“You mean, like a potato gun?”

I first watched The Tourist at some point during lockdown. I loved it, but I couldn’t figure out how to review it: this show has numerous…hmm…not quite twists, but, I suppose, reveals and developments. To talk about why I loved it would be to spoil the pleasure of the surprise for a new viewer.

However, I recently learned that The Tourist got a second season (premiering on Netflix in the US on February 29), and that means I must review it, because I want all of you to enjoy it as much as I did. So, here goes: an overview of the show’s characters, premise, and strengths; then a Spoiler Roo; then a discussion of all those reveals and developments that you shouldn’t read until you’ve watched the six-episode first season.

Jamie Dornan plays a guy with amnesia (acquired in a car accident) wandering around the Australian outback. All we know about him before the accident is that he’s a jerk: the sort of person who isn’t nice to people working a cash register. But he’s also a doofus who rocks out to “Betty Davis Eyes” while driving, so he can’t be all bad.

Danielle Macdonald is Helen, the rookie cop (just promoted from traffic, not even done with her training) who tries to help this hapless amnesiac, even though he constantly makes it hard for her by trying to solve his problems by himself. Helen is an amazing, nuanced character: she’s had some trauma and she’s trying to get back on her feet, but her lack of self-esteem has led to her getting engaged to an absolutely awful man, the sort of person who tells her that nobody else would have her, that she’s not good enough to do anything, and that she shouldn’t aspire to…anything, really, because she’ll fail no matter what. At one point, Helen gives a short, awkward speech on how she feels about having gained weight, and it’s one of the most accurate distillations of the complexity of weight, self-love, and social pressures (to both love oneself and conform to a slender ideal) that I’ve ever seen.

So, Helen and Eliot (Jamie Dornan eventually gets a name) are on parallel journeys of self-discovery, but that makes this sound like Eat, Pray, Love in the back of beyond. It’s not.

The Tourist is a mystery and a thriller. There are explosions, a guy trapped in a tank underground, evil truckers, drug deals, confidence artists and scams, police corruption, guns, violence, and death. I never quite knew what would happen next.

But The Tourist also has a subtle, sardonic humor that makes it more than just one cliffhanger after another. Helen, Eliot, and most of the other characters are funny. People make odd observations, or sometimes do foolish things and then laugh them off. The writing—and the actors’ performances—make each of these people feel completely three-dimensional. At one point, Eliot tries to steal someone’s car at gunpoint, only to realize he doesn’t know how to drive a stick shift. (Quotidian humor may be my favorite kind.)

The setting is a huge part of the charm: the characters wander around the vast open spaces of the outback, where there might be 30 miles between one house and the next. The result is something like a medieval chivalric romance, in which knights and villains wander through fields and forests. It’s also something like a spaghetti western, and some elements of the score echo the trilling guitars of a Sergio Leone film—an homage, but also a semi-ironic tweak on the brutal simplicity of white-hat/black-hat gunslinger drama.

The entire show is ultimately very human, very nuanced, and very satisfying. I was surprised to learn there was a second season, because, although the first season doesn’t fill in all of the blanks, it provides just enough emotional closure that I was comfortable imagining what would happen to these characters next. Having said that, I am absolutely delighted at the prospect of spending more time with them.

Spoiler Roo!

They really do just come at you!

Oh, where to start? Let’s start with the romance: Helen and Eliot are an unexpected pairing, but also a perfect one. They’re both trying to figure out who they are, but also trying how to deal with who they used to be. They’re learning how to be brave in different ways. I loved it.

But I also loved those reveals and developments I mentioned earlier. Lachlan Rogers, the famous detective, for instance: he’s a Boy Scout until his wife is threatened, and then he is a terrifying foe. The gradual development of his plot, including the necessity for his sudden change in direction, was surprising throughout.

Or what about Luci? Her back-and-forth with Eliot was half sexual chemistry and half cat-and-mouse game. Her connections to Kosta, the microdosing psychopathic cartel boss, was a twist I never would have seen coming. In fact, I wouldn’t have seen any of those concepts coming after just the first episode—a great example of the show’s willingness to reveal and develop backstory and plot over time.

For me, the best episode was the fifth one, when Eliot (having accidentally taken a macrodose of Kosta’s LSD-laced water) enters a hallucinogenic dream space. From the hilarious signage in the hospital that acts as a wonky memory palace, to the unreliability about memory itself, it reminded me of my favorite episode of The Leftovers (“The International Assassin”) while still feeling completely appropriate to the tone of The Tourist.

The final episode, in which Eliot learns what sort of person he used to be, broke my heart. Can you imagine it? Finding out that you’re actively cruel, and trying to deal with that? His attempt to forget again, then to end it all, drove home the way that we conceive of ourselves, our identities. But Helen’s willingness to forgive him—to send him a burrito of affection—also reminds us of the power of forgiveness, second chances, and becoming a better person.

I would have been happy with that ending, but I’m even happier to know that there’s more coming soon.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


  1. Josie, thank you so much for initially recommending this show to me, and then reviewing it. I had no idea a second season was coming, but I'm thrilled. Although I don't know how they can top season one. I loved it, and watched it twice.

    While Eliot is so intriguing and the reveal at the end heartbreaking, it's Helen that made this story work for me. I just loved her to bits and kept hoping she would realize her own worth. There's something about them as a couple that delights me.

    I think the LSD-related stuff was my favorite. So unexpected and well-done.

    Although I didn't think we'd get more, I wanted the story to continue. I wanted to find out what happens to these two people. Fingers crossed that it's even half as good as season one.

  2. I'm really surprised this show never really took off. I think you are the only person I know who has even heard of it.

    I hope Netflix pushing it, and the second season, will get more people interested.

    This was the first and last thing (as far as I can remember) that I've ever seen Jamie Dornan in. I remember that I tried The Fall, but didn't even finish the first episode. (Too grim!)

    1. We can't be the only ones to see it or there wouldn't be a second season, right?

      Jamie Dornan made an excellent serial killer in The Fall. He was also the lead in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. :)

    2. You're not the only ones. Me, too. Loved it! Like you guys I just assumed this was a limited series. One & done. Obviously the S02 plot is gonna give Eliot a get out of jail card, but like everything else in this show it won't be free.

    3. I loved the show too, but I probably wouldn't have seen it if Josie hadn't posted about it. But I'm not sure what to expect of a second season. The first season ending was kind of perfect.

    4. Wow! What a pleasant surprise! I had no idea The Tourist got a second season. I loved it (and I loved The Fall too, even though it was a bit grim).

  3. There are five of us! That's almost a half dozen!

    1. Okay, the Netflix blurb says, and I quote, "This thriller about a man with amnesia became the UK's most watched drama in 2022 thanks to its 'sharp dialogue' and 'clever plotting' (rogerebert.com)

    2. My hairdresser is the only person I know in person who has seen it. (She was very excited to know there's a second season.)

      Was the UK hiding this from us? As punishment or something?

    3. That must be the answer. The UK was hoarding the show.


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