The outlaw presented in this new Epix series doesn’t come off as a hardened killer.
Instead, the Billy the Kid shown on Billy the Kid Season 1 Episode 1 was more of a reluctant gunman, doing just enough to keep ahead of those pursuing him.
Not that that made him any less deadly. It definitely made him a more sympathetic figure around which to build a series.
So did going back in time to see how a young Irish immigrant who loved his hardworking mother and invalid father became one of America’s most-feared outlaws.
Like many immigrants, Billy’s family, the McCartys, bought into the illusion of the American West being an Eden where anyone could get ahead if they worked hard enough.
Tenement neighbor Frank O’Connor spouted the government’s propaganda to convince the McCartys to try their luck out West. Patrick had his doubts, but he could deny nothing to his persistent wife, Kathleen.
But the government wasn’t offering any subsidies or guarantees for these poor immigrants moving west in hopes of a better life, as both the McCartys and the O’Connors would discover.
That started with those renting transportation ripping off these immigrants, much as they had previously been cheated. It’s the American way.
Fortunately, Billy made contact with a kindly older man with a rent-a-wreck wagon no one else would hire.
But price gouging was hardly the last challenge the McCartys would face on their road to Kansas.
At least Billy gained a guide and a father figure in Moss, who laid out the dangers they could face on their trip west. The precocious Billy needed someone to give him the unvarnished truth because his parents certainly weren’t.
Kathleen was a burst of sunshine who would protect her children from the darker things in life. Her determination included any misgivings she may have had about their western sojourn and new life in Kansas.
Then there was the doubtful Patrick, who nearly killed himself trying to rescue the family chest after one of Moss’s wagons capsized while crossing a river.
After that, Patrick was never the same and became a nonentity in his own family. This required that Kathleen step up and become the head of the household, arranging to barter labor for a room at a boardinghouse.
It was admirable that a frontier doctor could diagnose mental illness, even if he did have absolutely no way to treat it.
In one of his more coherent moments, Patrick had a heartwarming scene with Billy when he encouraged him and compared him to a star in the night sky. That showed the real Patrick was still trapped in there, somewhere.
Another pivotal moment for Billy came after Patrick died. Billy picked up and pointed a gun with feeling, like he was ready to gain vengeance on those who had done his family wrong.
The westward journey revealed to Billy that violence is a part of life, whether it be natural or artificial.
A rushing current of a river effectively took his father from him. A lightning strike during a violent thunderstorm set a tree on fire. Those are things you wouldn’t see on the dirty streets of New York.
Frank was shot and killed during a raid by horse thieves, right in front of the entire travel party. Kathleen tried to protect the children from seeing that, but that was impossible.
Little wonder Billy appeals to Moss to teach him how to shoot a gun. He must have been a stellar student to end up how he did.
Billy also observed how badly Americans treated immigrants such as his family. He saw his hardworking mother get dismissed by a bank official when she sought a loan. He watched a priest go through the motions of handling his father’s last rites and funeral.
So it was little wonder that Billy began gravitating to the power of the gun. All the men around him were carrying weapons as a form of protection. And as strong as his mother was, he became the man of the house and the protector of his family.
At the beginning and the end of the episode, set six years later, adult Billy was in the spotlight. Yet it was still possible to see that thoughtful young boy within him.
Throughout the scenes with Joe Grant, he proclaimed that the bounty hunter didn’t have to die. Instead, he could choose to stop pursuing Billy.
By removing two bullets from Grant’s gun, Billy gave him two chances to change his mind. But Grant insisted on going to the point of no return, and Billy ended him. A sharpshooter against a drunk was only going to come out one way.
Even after killing Grant, Billy announced to the patrons that things didn’t have to go down that way. He even left money with the bartender to pay for Grant’s final expenses.
The debut episode left a couple of questions.
What made Billy develop into an outlaw? And is that a matter of crimes or just perception?
To revisit Billy’s development, watch Billy the Kid online.
How did you enjoy this new perspective about Billy the Kid?
What do you think made Billy become an outlaw?
What does the series say about the immigrant experience?
Dale McGarrigle is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.
You can view the original article HERE.