Film & TV

Online Series Review: ‘Billy the Kid’: Thin Line Between Lawbreakers and Law Enforcers

BY Joe Bendel TIMEApril 19, 2022 PRINT

There were outlaws and lawmen aligned on both sides of the notorious Lincoln County War, but only one was already infamous in his day: Henry McCarty, a.k.a. William H. Bonney, a.k.a. Kid Antrim, a.k.a. Emilio Estevez in “Young Guns.” At that time in New Mexico, it was difficult tell the difference between the lawbreakers and the law-enforcers.

Nobody better exemplified that ambiguity than Billy the Kid. Despite his baby-face, young McCarty endured bitter hardships and committed grave crimes well beyond his years. For a short while, McCarty manages to survive the frontier, as he finds his way to Lincoln County, where he must eventually make a fateful choice, in creator Michael Hirst’s eight-episode “Billy the Kid.”

Hard Life, Hard Choices

Life was hard for McCarty’s Irish immigrant family in New York, but it would be harder out West. Unfortunately, they learn that hard truth after packing up all their possessions, in search of the better life promised in government-sponsored advertisements. The disastrous trek broke the spirit of young McCarty’s father, but their guide provided the boy’s first introduction to firearms. He quickly learns he has a knack for handling them.

Frankly, the first two episodes are filled with the sort of pioneer miserabilism that you might expect of Jan Troell’s “The Immigrants” or Laura Ingalls Wilder at her bleakest. They are a hard slog to watch, even though Eileen O’Higgins is terrific as Henry or Billy’s sainted mother Kathleen.

The series picks up when the Kid reaches his teen years, allowing Tom Blyth to take-over the role for the rest of the run. He is well-cast as the wiry, electrically-charged future outlaw. Yet, we first meet him as a loving son and protective older brother. Making a life out West is tough even for the scrappy Kid, especially when he runs afoul of the local syndicate of corrupt ranchers and politicians, known as the Santa Fe Ring.

Epoch Times Photo
Tom Blyth (R) as Billy the Kid in online series “Billy the Kid.” (EPIX/MGM)

Hirst’s “Billy the Kid” really gets going when the Kid, then using the name of his no-good stepfather, Antrim, falls in with outlaw Jesse Evans, who stirs up plenty of trouble rustling the cattle of John Chisum (who was played by John Wayne in “Chisum,” but never appears in the series). Hoping to hide out south of the border, the Kid befriends gambler Melquiades Seguira. Yet, once again, he makes powerful enemies.

Eventually, all roads lead the Kid to Lincoln County, where the Jesse Evans Gang serves as armed enforcers for James Dolan and “The House” faction. However, the Kid can’t help identifying with the average sharecroppers and merchants he is hired to intimidate.

Despite the slow start, episodes three through eight have some pretty good shoot-outs and high-stakes poker games. However, it is pretty clear Hirst anticipates a second season of “Billy the Kid,” because the final episode ends before the Lincoln County War fully breaks out. Fans of traditional Westerns will probably be frustrated, but it certainly ends on a decisive turning point in the Kid’s life.

Simmering Rage

In fact, throughout the series, Hirst and Blyth emphasize the Kid’s conflicted conscience and the compounding weight of his guilt. At several points, he makes very bad choices, in hopes they will lead him back to the straight life.

It is sort of a “revisionist” Western, especially in terms of the Kid’s empathy for the Mexican people, but it really leans into the tragedy of the outlaw’s short life. Throughout it all, the outlaw lifestyle brings the Kid little reward and a good deal of angst.

Blyth does not have an extensive list of previous credits, but he has enough presence to carry the series. He really projects a sense of simmering rage and his moral outrage. Viewers can practically see the chip on his shoulder, which makes all the unfolding drama credible. Plus, Blyth bears a passable likeness to the only surviving grainy photo of the outlaw.

Supporting Cast

Kathleen McCarty is by far the most substantial female role in “Billy the Kid,” and Siobhan Williams makes quite an impression in the small but pivotal role of Irene Riley, wife of John Riley, Dolan’s partner. Ryan Kennedy’s portrayal of Ash Upson, the journalist who codified the wild legends of The Kid by ghostwriting Pat Garrett’s “The Authenticate Life of Billy the Kid” is unexpectedly sympathetic. However, it is interesting to see Hirst position him as a muckraking reformer.

By far, Guillermo Alonso’s Segura is the Kid’s most memorable and charismatic sidekick, whereas Daniel Webber lacks sufficient menace as the ruthless Jesse Evans.

Hirst and company do a nice job capturing the mud and dust of the range, without wallowing in it. They leave no doubt the life an outlaw was brutal, tense, and short. The same was true for crooked lawmen and far too many of the straight ones, too.

Epoch Times Photo
Tom Blyth as Billy the Kid in online series “Billy the Kid.” (EPIX/MGM)

Again, it starts slow, but “Billy the Kid” finishes strong. Recommended for viewers of the genre who are fascinated by the real-life characters, “Billy the Kid” starts streaming on April 24 on EPIX.

‘Billy the Kid’
Director: Michael Hirst
Stars: Tom Blyth, Siobhan Williams, Ryan Kennedy, Guillermo Alonso
Running Time: 8 episodes
MPAA Rating: R
Release Date: April 24, 2022
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, visit
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