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The Tourist season two review: Jamie Dornan is back in one of the best British thrillers of recent years

Some of the tension is lost in this second run, which relocates the action to Ireland, but it’s a worthwhile return for Dornan’s enigmatic hero

Nick Hilton
Monday 01 January 2024 22:00 GMT
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The Tourist Series 2 trailer

The man with no name, no family, no history, is an action movie staple. It evokes memories of Clint Eastwood staring down his enemies in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, or Viggo Mortensen growling through the apocalyptic wasteland of The Road. It is a sure-fire route to a sense of mystery – who is he? What’s he doing here? – but it’s also a creative dead end. You cannot tantalise your viewers forever, and that’s the challenge for the second series of BBC One’s The Tourist, which picks up after the pieces begin to fall into place for our enigmatic hero.

After the ambiguous final moments of The Tourist’s first season, viewers will be relieved to discover that Elliot (Jamie Dornan) is very much alive. In fact, he’s swanning around south Asia with his girlfriend Helen (Danielle Macdonald), who has sacked off her career as a police constable. After a difficult time in Australia (which involved a car crash, loss of memory, and about a dozen attempts on his life), Elliot thinks he’s safe. “Are you really, really – like 100 per cent – sure about that?” Helen asks. Well, of course not. And it takes about five minutes back in his Irish homeland before Elliot is kidnapped by masked goons.

If the first series was a fish-out-of-water thriller, calling to mind Robert A Heinlein’s 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land, this second outing inverts the formula. If there is a tourist now, it’s Helen. For Elliot, this is a return to a native land where people know who he is – or, at least, who he was. “You sound like you’re a long way from home,” a local barkeep tells Helen. “Yeah,” she replies, “I am.” But where the show previously had to rely on the, rather tired, amnesiac trope in order to make Elliot’s discombobulation satisfying, Helen is a more natural tourist. She gallivants around the Irish countryside while Elliot tries to break free of his captors (who needle him with Saw-inspired challenges, such as cutting off his own legs, but played for laughs).

The Tourist has afforded an opportunity for Dornan to show exactly how woefully miscast he was as the icy, dominant Christian in the Fifty Shades franchise. Behind the good looks that saw him model for Calvin Klein in his early years, Dornan is better at projecting vulnerability than confidence. It’s what made his serial killer, Paul Spector, so chilling in The Fall: a cold-blooded killer gripped by a disarming unease with his place in the world. In The Tourist he is neither action hero nor lothario, just a man caught up in events like driftwood floating down the Lagan. “I tried once to end it all,” he tells one of his kidnappers. “But I’m ready to answer for the things that I’ve done.”

Mild-mannered men who are surprisingly au fait with violence and criminality – a genre spawned by Breaking Bad, with the baton passed first to Ozark, and now over to The Tourist – has become television’s most reliable archetype. The Tourist’s newly expanded canvas gives more narrative control to Helen, which allows the fresh air of a more comic tone into proceedings. Searching for her kidnapped lover, she teams up with Conor MacNeill’s detective, who isn’t quite as normal a police officer as Helen was (to say the least). “I had to go and stick my big nose in it!” she exclaims, as things unravel beyond her control.

Where the original concept of The Tourist was neat and tidy – an unknown Northern Irishman wakes from a car accident in Australia, pursued by assassins whose motive eludes him – this second series is less clean. Ireland is a more familiar place than Australia (more like the Heinlein formula, where a Martian visits Earth), but the interpersonal dealings are more complex than ever. There’s an element of Hatfields and McCoys to the feud between two warring Irish crime dynasties (to one of which, Elliot may be the unwitting heir), which pushes the show away from the mystery genre (though the twists keep coming, with the regularity of a Tuscan highway) and towards the less interesting world of gangsters. In refocusing, something of the tension that typified the Antipodean season is lost.

All the same, The Tourist – which broadcasts on Stan in Australia and HBO in the US, as well as the BBC – is undoubtedly one of the best British thrillers of recent years. The combination of a very sexy protagonist, a slow-burning but believable romance (the chemistry between Dornan and Macdonald is, again, excellent), and stakes that get cranked higher and higher, make this a worthwhile second run. Now it’s no longer a blank slate – an unknown on the schedule – the show is less surprising, but The Tourist’s return home still has the capacity to thrill.

‘The Tourist’ season two is on BBC One and BBC iPlayer at 9pm on 1 January 2024

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