Billy the Kid: an outlaw considered a hero

For foreigners, it may be curious how American culture praises the gunslingers and cowboys of the past. “Legends” like Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid, Jesse James, and Billy the Kid are treated like misunderstood heroes, brave young idols, even if they were violent murderers and militiamen. For Brazilians, especially for Cariocas, who still live with a sort of Western absurdities even in the 21st century, there is something problematic about praising criminals, but as a consumer of Westerns, the category created by Hollywood to explore the theme, I know their stories and appreciate the content. In other words, this opening disclaimer is to admit the paradoxes of the post below.

Among the many Western legends, the brief and tragic story of William H. Bonney, or Billy the Kid, is one of the most popular. In a superficial search about him, we see that there are more than 50 films where he appears as a character or theme of the plot, from 1911 until today, with the Billy The Kid series, currently available on Paramount Plus (in Brazil). Signed by the respected Michael Hirst, the series proposes to present us with a more human version of the criminal killed in 1811, aged 22.

After exploring the universe of Tudors and Vikings, seeing the showrunner’s look at the old west is minimally curious. He is out of his comfort zone, in another country, in a universe as arid as that of, well, the Vikings. Only more desert-arid-like. As happened with Ragnar Lothbrok, we see that Billy is a character that clearly pleases Michael Hirst, presented as a hero with upstanding potential, but without an alternative life. The first season explores a good deal of which there is little concrete information about the gunslinger, including how his family decided to risk it all on the dream of fortune in the west after living in poverty in New York, the losses (uncle, father, brother, money, mother ) and how a hopeful Billy turned the feared outlaw.

The photography and soundtrack are exquisite, but it’s a partial read on it. As their defenders claim, much of their crimes were in self-defense and the anarchic, chaotic, and corrupt culture of the Old West is distressing.

For Western connoisseurs, there’s a parade of names of famous gunslingers, including Alias, Jesse Evans, and Pat Garrett. The stories are so absurd that it’s hard to remember that it’s not fiction. Those who enjoy Yellowstone realize that the evil of conquering territory was ingrained in the American states founded at the time.

Briton Tom Blyth, who has a cameo in The Gilded Age as Gladys Russell’s love interest Archie Baldwin, has been in a few minor productions and makes his starring debut. Without the innate charisma of Travis Fimmell, who made Ragnar an international idol in Vikings, Tom does not compromise. Especially because Billy is not an emotional man and his somber air brings an aura of mystery necessary for the construction of the legend. It then remains for Australian Daniel Webbs – whom we know as Vince Neill in The Dirt – to steal the spotlight as the insecure and envious Jesse Evans. Another Briton, Alex Roe, enters towards the end as Pat Garrett, without great demands yet.

With the “reimagining” of Billy the Kid‘s motivations as a criminal, we saw in the first season the gunslinger’s involvement in the War in Lincoln County, New Mexico, which will be fatal to his existence and where he becomes – unwittingly – one of the most wanted in the Old West. The second season, confirmed now in early 2023, will explore how Billy and Jesse become enemies in both work and love. From what they have already delivered, it will be interesting.

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