SPOILER ALERT: This article contains a few spoilers from seasons 1 and 2. If you haven’t watched those yet, we suggest heading over to SBS On Demand and diving into this wild ride from the very start.
Jim Worth has finally returned home. Which is bad news for just about everyone he left behind.
When we first met Jim (Tim Roth) in Tin Star he was a drunken UK cop somehow transplanted to the wilds of Canada. Kindly and thoughtful when sober, his drunken alter ego Jack Devlin was a murderous hellraiser, while his wife Angela (Genevieve O’Reilly) and daughter Anna (Abigail Lawrie) weren’t exactly innocent souls themselves.
For two seasons of this English-language series they dealt with a community of roughneck oil workers, Mexican cartels, the local First Nations tribe, and Ammonite Christians, all of which seemed to involve a generally high level of violence and chaos combined with various attempts on their lives (sometimes from other family members). By the end of season 2, they all realised they’d never find peace until they finally faced down Jim’s past.
Season 3 opens with Jim coming into Liverpool on a ferry (he’s disguised as a truck driver; the actual driver is tied up in the back). He walks through the scenic streets, packed with colourful buildings and people having a good time. It’d almost work as a tourism video, if his wanderings weren’t interrupted by flashbacks to him and Angela throwing someone off a very tall rooftop.
The trio have come to town separately; no surprise that their rendezvous is planned at a pub, where Jim waits patiently every day in front of three pints while parties and brawls break out behind him. The trio have a (literal) list of people they’re in town to kill, and it doesn’t take long to realise that they’ve got some pretty big targets in their sights – property developer Michael Ryan (Ian Hart) for one, who looks exactly like the kind of cast-iron hard man the Worths may not be able to just gun down no matter how many dodgy weapons they buy from one of Jim’s old contacts (who’s now a youth worker with a stash of guns under the bed).
The first two seasons of Tin Star didn’t exactly underplay the oddball side of the Worth family, but in that small Canadian town, they often faced off against characters as offbeat as they were. Here the balance has shifted: in Liverpool, they’re living large and standing out – even as they’re meant to be lying low – and it’s up to the rest of the city to figure out how to deal with them. Making death threats on live television? All just part of the plan.
So this isn’t quite your usual gritty tale of grim revenge. Technically, the Worths are hiding out (they move into a grand but faded hotel because their targets own all the trendy ones), but that doesn’t stop them from rocking out at a Karaoke bar, making sure their faces are picked up by security cameras, or having the kind of shopping session trying on new outfits you’d expect to find in a rom-com. It’s not unrealistic, exactly (and there is a reason for it all), but a lot of the realism comes from accurately reflecting their emotional state. Somewhat surprisingly the Worths are working together as a happy family, and while their mission is deadly (and deadly serious), that doesn’t mean they can’t have a good time doing it.
A lot of this comes from having Tim Roth in the lead. One of the all-time great UK actors, as Jim Worth he’s often been required to go to extremes (sometimes within a single scene). The hard edge is still here, and he’s wary too. But the overwhelming impression he gives off is of a man just happy to be with his family.
Whether he’s embracing Angela or adoringly watching Anna – let’s not forget, last season he revealed she’s not his biological daughter, and her father’s side of the family becomes increasingly relevant this season – he’s a man who radiates joy. Which, considering he’s in town to kill ten or so people, plus no doubt a bunch of other hired goons and henchmen along the way, may not be the best possible state of mind.
It’s great to see the Worths working together as a happy family unit, but it’s hard not to see these early scenes as a version of the moment in an action movie where the sidekick talks about how everything’s finally going right… just before they’re killed.
The (possible) good news is, Tin Star isn’t that predictable. Switching between modes is what it does best. Later in the first episode there’s a grimly tense running gun battle in the corridors behind a ballroom; the chase ends with the family falling through a ceiling into a dance contest in full swing.
It’s a big drop; for anyone else you’d expect serious injuries at best. The Worths? They just get up and casually walk away. Here’s hoping their luck holds out.
All six episodes of Tin Star season 3 are streaming now at SBS On Demand. Seasons 1 and 2 are also available for the next two months.
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