TABOO [Season 1, Episode 6 & 7 Review]: I Have a Use For You.
Winter’s funeral kicks off episode seven, but she isn’t buried. Her corpse is put on a boat, rowed out to see, and sunk with rocks. Helga is vengeful and blames James despite the possibility that he could be innocent. Cholmondeley drops Robert off at James’ house. There’s a brief moment where Cholmondeley thinks he’s going to come inside and get his rocks off to Lorna, but the door is slammed in his face.
James and Chichester have words. It was James who hammered the nail to trap the slaves that sunk with The Cornwallis/The Influence. Chichester wants James to write a confession stating Sir Stuart Strange was the one who gave the order. James teases that he has an alternative suggestion, which comes in the form of Godfrey’s testimony in court. Zilpha notices the remains of James’ ships and meets with him. Zilpha claims that they may have been going too fast and that they have plenty of time. James denies that they have any time and claims that he thought they were both the same person. With Zilpha in tears, James hands her a diamond and breaks it off before stating he has a lot of work to do.
James has Atticus fix the leak in the roof where the gunpowder is being hidden. Atticus wants to take Helga out before she tells everything to East India. James doesn’t want Helga to suffer any more than she already has and knows that her East India meeting is inevitable. Stuart Strange nearly blows his entire load upon hearing Helga’s confession, but locks her away in a safe house. Brace locks himself in his room only to reveal that he was the one that poisoned James’ father with arsenic and killed him, but he claims to have done it as a kindness due to his father’s mental state.
James is arrested for treason. He’s stripped and beaten and then dragged and restrained in Solomon Coop’s torture cellar. Coop wants James to give up everyone he worked with, code names, names of Americans, who helped him make the gunpowder; everything. James agrees but on the stipulation that Stuart Strange will meet with him privately in his cell. Coop laughs and they torture him with water, hallucinogenic potions, and drowning. After 12 hours, James still hasn’t broken and The King agrees to give James what he wants. With Strange in his cell demanding to know why James has brought him there, James pauses, looks up, and simply states, “I have a use for you.”
Everything is going to hell and yet James is still so calm and cool about the shitstorm standing on his doorstep. James is still talking about sailing to the New World on his ship. He intends to take all of those who have aided him in his time of need. Of course, he brings this up as he’s about to be arrested to a hysterical Godfrey who is convinced James is crazy since he has no ship and will likely be hanged. The reactions James has this episode are curiously intriguing. He discovers that Brace was the one that killed his father yet says or does nothing and only mentions that Lorna and Robert need Brace’s help with dinner. He is tortured for half a day yet won’t budge on his demands, he turned his sister away, and he decided not to injure or kill Helga. It’s difficult to tell if James is just confident in his voodoo abilities or if he’s actually spent all this time planning all of his moves.
The visuals for the entire series have been top notch from the start. London in the 1800s was apparently very dark and dreary, but those moments where light cascades from the sky or moonlight creeps in through a window or candle light causes shadows to dance through a long corridor your eyes just gobble that shit up as if it was medically prescribed. This episode seems to play with light more than other episodes. That scene where James gives Robert the key to his safe had James almost completely swallowed by natural light while Robert hid in the shadows. Drastic changes to the dismal climate of Taboo result in fantastic imagery for viewers.
We’ve seen a little of Coop’s torture chamber before, but never to this extent. James is obviously receiving preferential treatment here with his face being covered so often. While James can be hurt and brutalized like a normal man, it’ll be interesting to see if Taboo explores how sane the character is. He embraced nonsense early on, but is he not losing his mind because he already lost it in Africa? James is confident in his plan and his actions in the physical plane, but the black magic nightmares he experiences offer a different glimpse at the character. We’re seeing more and more of them lately with lengthier versions of ones we’ve already seen along with ones we’ve never seen before. Did these scenes actually occur in some capacity or are they trying to tell us something? James sees more of his mother, he sees Thorne unmask as the man violating Zilpha in the forest, and he continues to see himself drowning. Did he drown and die only to come back because he made a deal with the devil? James was on The Cornwallis with those trapped slaves and emerged as the only survivor. How does one get so lucky?
Next week is the season finale and it has honestly come too soon. There is so much work to be done and only an hour to do it in. We have free reign within this beautifully violent house, but nearly all of the doors remain locked without a key in sight sheltering skeletons from the outside world. What other secrets could possibly be unearthed before James Keziah Delaney retreats back into the shadows? 5/5 uses for you
Brace informs James that his mother isn’t the saint he’s always making her out to be. She actually tried to drown James in a pond when he was a baby. Instead of dropping the matter or coming to the conclusion that maybe being fixated on his mom isn’t the greatest idea, James strips down and goes into the exact pond his mother attempted to kill him in and almost drowns again in the process.
Cholmondeley grudgingly adds the chlorate to the gunpowder mixture he’s been concocting with James’ son Robert. The chlorate is highly combustible and will explode in grandiose fashion if they stop stirring the mixture. James then sets up a delivery date with Dumbarton. They fake a cholera outbreak and transport the powder in a coffin.
George Chichester meets with East India, which gets Sir Stuart Strange thinking they need to move things back in their favor. They receive a gift in the form of Ibbotson (Christopher Fairbank), the grungy old man taking care of Robert, confessing to a priest; he reveals the whereabouts of The African Devil’s factory. The priest takes the information to East India and despite James moving all of the powder in time East India responds by blowing up James’ ship right in front of him.
James spends the majority of the episode scrambling to find a ship in a drunken stupor. Meanwhile, Zilpha finally has enough of Thorne’s bullshit and kills him while he sleeps. She runs to James who is hesitant to rejoice that his love is now his and his alone. After the funeral, James stomps into Zilpha’s home and demands that she “takes her fucking dress off.” In the heat of passion, James is haunted by images of his mother drowning him and backs away in horror before either one of them can finish. To make matters worse, James wakes up face down at the docks only to discover Winter’s body.
It was a shame to finally see Jefferson Hall exit the cast. While you certainly craved for the character to die, preferably by James’ hands, you also loved to hate his presence. He was disgusting, menacing, and self-absorbed but the character controlled every scene he was a part of thanks to Hall’s performance. Christopher Fairbank’s farewell wasn’t nearly as difficult. Ibbotson was always a weak asshole, so his death was more of a relief than anything else.
The relationship between James and Zilpha continues to get more and more interesting. James has craved his sister’s moist and tender orifices from the first episode and he eventually acts on that desire, but he doesn’t seem happy about it. Zilpha claims that she killed Thorne because James told her to. While adding more wood to the fire, James begins to ask when he did such a thing but stops himself and disposes of the body instead. Their half-sibling love affair is strained by the end of the episode, so it’ll be interesting to see what else occurs in the final two episodes.
The thing that plagued me the most throughout the episode is how the hell did Robert see James down at the pond when in the scene prior he was supposed to be continuously stirring with Cholmondeley at the factory? Robert is never really seen away from his post either, so it’s bizarre. James confronts Robert about it, but only to find out what the boy saw.
The end of the episode leaves you with a lot of questions. James fucks things up after being balls deep in Zilpha, his ship is destroyed and James asks for Atticus’ assistance as he rips the heart out of the man whose thumb he cut off, and James drunkenly finds himself back in the water after violently lashing out at Godfrey and Helga. The whole Winter thing is going to annihilate the alliance he has with Helga. Will James be able to recover from such a disastrous blow to what seemed like such an elegant plan? 4.5/5 African Devils
James and Thorne have their duel that was teased at the end of the previous episode, but it ends in a surprising way. James is busy manufacturing his own gunpowder and reveals that the saltpeter he stole from East India was actually The Crown’s possession since they had recently purchased it from East India. Cholmondeley requires an assistant to help with his man-made gunpowder, so James drags his son into the mix after telling the boy everything they’ve been up to before briefly stating that he is now “one of them.” When not checking on his gunpowder, James pesters Lorna Bow to retrieve the trunk full of his father’s belongings in an attempt to find the Nootka Sound treaty.
Lorna Bow’s intrigue with James Delaney continues as she walks through a swamp just to see their duel. Cholmondeley pesters James repeatedly throughout the episode asking several times if he can pursue the actress since she’s one of the few women he can not only imagine having sex with, but would actually masturbate over if given the opportunity. Sir Stuart Strange has had enough of James Delaney’s bullshit and is convinced East India’s superior financial resources are more than enough to deal with him. However, Solomon Coop has other ideas and targets an organization known as the Sons of Africa and a man named George Chichester (Lucian Msamati) specifically who has been writing to The Crown for nine years in a desperate attempt to investigate 260 slave deaths of men, women, and children aboard a ship known as The The Influence. It’s Chichester’s belief that senior directors currently involved within East India Company deliberately caused this ship to sink and kill everyone on board. Coop merely pushes Chichester in the right direction.
Whatever shreds of humanity James may have been clinging onto when Taboo began have completely dissolved. James is ruthless and feels like everyone is deserving of his vengeance. He has claimed to be foolish, nonsensical, and uncaring from the beginning but he’s truly living up to his reputation lately. While that was touched upon last episode, he continues to stomp around town with an emotionless expression shoving his son into danger without a second thought and destroys a man’s hand for merely considering the idea of ratting out who stole the saltpeter for reward purposes. James cuts off this man’s thumb and carries it around half the episode just to make a point with prostitutes.
Jonathan Pryce is this whirlwind of anger and desperation on Taboo. Sir Stuart Strange is obviously reaching the end of his rope at this point and it shows. His demeanor is completely unraveling as he squawks orders, screeches at comrades, and his voice cracks whenever he’s unsure of something. As veins pop out of his forehead due to stress and uncontrollable rage, you can’t help but wonder if he’s going to end up having an aneurysm.
I’m also purposely trying to be vague when it comes to what occurs with Zilpha in this episode. Thorne has lost his mind and now fully realizes that he’ll never be to Zilpha what James is to her and he wants James out of her mind and body by any means necessary. What transpires is creepy, disturbing, and yet totally mesmerizing. You actually feel bad for Zilpha. She seems to have some sort of unsettling romantic past with James, so that sounds like she is partially to blame for that. But Thorne legitimizes himself as a monster and Zilpha is basically one step above a damsel in distress. She seems to be on the verge of accepting the darkness that overcame James and using it to her own benefit.
When Thorne returns from the duel, he asks Zilpha where the maid is and Zilpha replies that she sent her out. Thorne inquires if it was for champagne or potatoes; champagne if James won or plain, old potatoes if Thorne triumphed. There’s so much contrasting tension and rising conflict taking place on the show: Thorne and Zilpha, East India and The Crown, the war between America and London, and James against nearly all of London. Everyone seems to be at each other’s throats while the empires they’re a part of continue to crumble, but James seems to be the only one benefiting from all of this.
Two little side notes: why does every dead body have crabs crawling around inside them? Do crabs actually do that? Why don’t we have more cannibal and zombie crab movies and TV shows? I have so many questions about crabs eating human flesh. And lastly, somebody seriously needs to make a Youtube video of all the times they say, “Hmm?” on Taboo. Yes, it’s Tom Hardy saying it 90% of the time but the count has to be nearing 100 at this point.
Only three episodes left this season. Still crossing my fingers for a massively weird, coked out, peyote fueled murderous rampage that lasts an entire episode to occur before the end of the season. Voodoo and black magic are the best excuses to do really funky shit in TV and movies and while Taboo has had some of that I really want more. 5/5 cadaver devouring crabs
If you’ve been watching Taboo from the beginning, you’ve been waiting for shit to get really bizarre. The series has always hinted at witchcraft and voodoo and Tom Hardy’s James Delaney getting the revenge he desires more than anything other than his half-sister Zilpha. With a few hints of exceptionally bloody violence and some key moments where James spoke gibberish and rubbed soot all over his face for funsies, Taboo has mostly been James laying the elaborate groundwork to a vengeful plot we as the audience had yet to fully comprehend. As of now, however, the fourth episode is what you’ve been clamoring for.
The Crown takes Lorna Bow from James Delaney’s home. Solomon Coop attempts to blackmail Lorna into handing over her portion of Nootka Sound while physically stripping her of her clothing in the process. When that doesn’t work, Coop resorts to bribing Lorna before Benjamin Wilton (Leo Bill) from East India of all people comes to her rescue thanks to an anonymous letter sent by James. With East India’s clerk Michael “Godders” Godfrey (Edward Hogg) under his thumb, James learns that he’ll be unable to trade gunpowder through Nootka Sound and his trading company since The Crown controls its production during times of war.
James enlists the help of a chemist named Dr. George Cholmondeley (Tom Hollander) who uses chemistry as parlor tricks to impress women and partakes in various hallucinogens on a regular basis. Fortunately for James, he also knows how to make his own gunpowder. James finally utilizes all of the pawns he’s been recruiting since returning to London (dubbed here as “the league of the damned”) and masterminds a robbery to take place during a party held by Countess Musgrove (Marina Hands).
This episode seriously has everything you’ve ever wanted from Taboo. Nearly every character introduced since the first episode is shown here. While James has seemingly played tug of war with who holds the reigns regarding his current situation with East India, The Crown, the Americans, and Nootka Sound, he certainly seems to be in complete control here. Prominently featured is the most unusual and questionable sex sequence of recent memory. James talks to demons in the fire like Brace mentioned his father doing early on in the series, but he uses these demons to fuck his sister while she’s at home sleeping. The result is this trippy sequence of Oona Chaplin being molested out in the wilderness by someone in an African mask, James stumbling around in said wilderness, Zilpha muttering The Lord’s Prayer while provocatively allowing her brother to enter her even though he isn’t physically there, and James rubbing ash all over his head and blowing it into his fireplace superimposed with Zilpha intimately moaning.
James is also involved in another brawl, but this time he gains the upper hand early on despite shedding quite a bit of his own blood. The sequence is the most graphic and gruesome Taboo has gotten thus far and you eat up every minute of it. James Delaney is beginning to showcase the monster he became in Africa. Tom Hardy portrays that teetering on the brink of madness mentality so perfectly that you can’t help but be entertained by how dark the James Delaney character is and how gloriously morbid Taboo is at its roots.
The interaction between James and Dr. Cholmondeley is hilarious and fascinating. Cholmondeley is a rather eccentric individual and is even shown shaking off the effects of nitrous oxide or laughing gas after willingly using “his own supply” to cope with the overwhelming insanity at the get-together he attended the night before. Cholmondeley is shown putting cow and pigeon shit in his mouth and talks of human urine being a key ingredient in homemade gunpowder. The highlight between the two is when they first meet as James interrupts Cholmondeley mid-coitus to which Cholmondeley basically complains of blue balls turning semen to poison which deteriorates the mind. After James explains his intentions and slams a bag of gold on the table, he inquires, “Has the semen yet turned to poison?”
The writing for the series hits a major high here with memorable one-liners galore (“We are the ship, you are the river.”) and we get the biggest glimpse of what James is actually capable of. The episode culminates at Musgrove’s party and apparently a party with dancing in the 1800s means playing Seven Minutes in Heaven before getting drunk and high with everyone around you and having a massive orgy. Michael Kelly’s American doctor Edgar Dumbarton makes one final bargain attempt with James and reveals that they know how James feels about Zilpha. Thorne Geary finally bumps into James at the party and teases a fatal confrontation we know has been boiling since their first encounter.
With the season half over, the only hope from here on out is for Taboo to delve deeper into the land of the strange hypnagogic landscape found within the voodoo James has barely relied on thus far. James attempting to escape from completely losing himself in a warped reality rich with African black magic could result in something visually spectacular that is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in a television series. The only question at this point is if Taboo is capable of lasting longer than one season. It certainly seems like a one and done deal. Nevertheless, it’s sure to be one hell of a ride leading up to the season finale. Don’t forget to ejaculate in the heat of passion, kiddos. We wouldn’t want poisoned and narrowed minds running amuck. 5/5 feet of disemboweled intestines
Episode 3 of Taboo opens with the body of Silver Tooth being found on the beach by Winter (Ruby-May Martinwood) and a group of scavengers. They loot the body with Winter calling dibs on the tooth. James (Tom Hardy) awakens to a trembling reality as he lies bloody on the table of Dr. Edgar Dumbarton (Michael Kelly). Dumbarton tends to the fresh wound on James’ abdomen, but he digs deeper (literally) and wants to know what price James is willing to settle for on the exchange of Nootka Sound. On a sheer stroke of luck, Dumbarton accidentally reveals a tiny clue and unintentionally tips James off regarding the identity of a mysterious American agent named Carlsbad.
James draws up a will declaring that if he is to die all that he owns is to be transferred to the hands of the American government, which only enrages Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce) and East India to an even greater degree. Strange has a meeting with The King’s Private Secretary Solomon Coop (Jason Watkins) to decide what to do regarding Delaney’s fate. Solomon reveals that James also sent a letter to The King saying he will relinquish Nootka Sound for the rights to trade smoked sea otter pelts along the Vancouver coast to Canton. While speaking to Dumbarton, James said he wanted to trade furs for tea from Fort George to Canton. James is offering Nootka Sound to the highest bidder, no matter if they’re American or British, and wants all the rights to all the tea in China.
Solomon makes a play for Horace Delaney’s widow and current theater actress Lorna Bow (Jessie Buckley). While James is boarding up all of his windows and attempting to take refuge in his father’s house, Lorna appears and wants to trade half of the house for her half of Nootka Sound. James believes Lorna’s life is already in danger after learning she had already met with The King. He urges her to stay indoors and agrees to let her stay in his home while they negotiate. Lorna is stubborn and attempts to still go out in the public eye, but she is mistaken for a prostitute at the end of the evening resulting in her defending herself and putting a target on her back after stabbing the Duke of Richmond. The end of the episode teases that we’re mere moments away from everything hitting the fan, which will only come to light in next week’s episode.
The incestuous theme hinted at the beginning of the series reaches new highs in the third episode. James exchanges many letters with his half-sister Zilpha Geary (Oona Chaplin) stating that he intends to start up their father’s trading company again with the sole purpose of selling it so the two of them can leave London together and never look back. James stands firm and believes that he and Zilpha are kindred spirits and that she is the love of his life while Zilpha is still adamant about staying faithful to her husband Thorne Geary (Jefferson Hall).
The love triangle between the three of them is evolving into its own toxic beast. Thorne comes to visit James at the docks and says that he’s, “murderously fucking” Zilpha lately because James returning has excited her. Meanwhile at the Geary home, Thorne is furious that Zilpha still can’t carry his child despite bleeding so frequently. Thorne is surprisingly graphic and vulgar when speaking about and to his wife. In addition to being murderous in the bedroom, Thorne tells Zilpha in the middle of an argument: “I apologize that I’m not related to you, but you could allow your cunt to swallow the work of an honest man who will buy you all the finest China.” Thorne then proceeds to take his frustrations out on a plate of oranges.
Tom Hardy continues to impress as James Delaney. Even as you begin to unravel what he has planned, you still have no idea where the series is headed or what James has put himself through in order to gain revenge. Hardy is the ultimate form of stoic as James Delaney. His plan never falters and his intentions remain firm even when he’s heavily injured. Hardy has mastered this cold, unblinking stare that not only hints at insanity but is also unbelievably scary because of its unpredictability. The ties to his mother along with the voodoo undertones, which have mostly remained on the back-burner so far, are clawing to the surface as James learns the marks he received on his back while being held prisoner in Africa are also related to his mother somehow.
Expanding on Tom Hardy stating that he originally wanted to go full frontal on the show, it’s obvious he’s not wearing pants or underwear for most of the scenes when he’s not in his top hat and longer, heavier, woolier, and somehow blacker coat that suddenly appears after he’s wounded. These scenes are mostly when he’s at home, so you can’t blame the guy. Who actually wants to wear pants while they’re in the comfort of their own home anyway? But poor Brace probably gets his fair share of eyefuls when he least expects it.
Hardy wears this long-sleeved shirt that looks like it was held prisoner with him in Africa and never washed over the course of the last decade. It’s just long enough to cover all of his important manhood bits, but it’s humorous to think that he’s blowing ash around in a chimney and sitting on kitchen tables Indian style with his balls and English butthole flapping in the breeze without a care in the world. It’s admirable in a way, but you mostly think about if he got any of that colored dust that he decided to finger paint with up or on anything he probably shouldn’t have during the course of production.
As the grimy layers of Taboo continue to expose themselves, the series plunges deeper and deeper into nastier and more profane territories which only showcases just how disturbed each character is on the show. The thick, brooding atmosphere is this rolling fog of filth that continues to grow and become dingier as the show progresses. We, as an audience, can only become more obsessed and fascinated as we witness revenge served on the sloppiest, unwashed dish anyone could possibly imagine. 5/5 bloody, infertile oranges
Taboo continued its slow trudge into what is hopefully the vengefully brutal wrath of James Keziah Delaney in its second episode. Pettifer (Richard Dixon) will be released from East India if he doesn’t kill James in a matter of days. James digs up and reveals what was in that bag he buried in the first episode. He also purchases a ship at an auction intending to use it for trading purposes, which leaves Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce) livid. The episode sheds light on the fact that the risk of James losing his life is considerably higher than it was merely one episode prior.
Several new characters are introduced this episode. A 13-year-old mulatto named Winter (Ruby-May Martinwood) tips James off on a man with a silver tooth who is trying to kill him. Winter has a connection to the brothel that is rather interesting to see unfold. James enlists the aid of the leader of the Dolphin Inn gang named Atticus (Stephen Graham). Atticus steals James’ horse and then proceeds to ask what the biggest and smallest things James saw in Africa for a book he intends to write. Atticus has important connections that James may find useful later. He has a striking appearance thanks to his bald head and giant compass tattoo that covers it. His blood-splattered face greets us in his introduction.
James also stirs the pot with an American doctor working at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital London named Dr. Edgar Dumbarton (Michael Kelly). Dumbarton finds himself in a peculiar situation because of the war, which is something James is likely to exploit. You don’t see much of The Prince Regent/current King (Mark Gatiss) and his Private Secretary Solomon Coop (Jason Watkins), but it does seem as though they’re targeting East India for something big. Lastly, and most importantly, the well-known theater actress Lorna Bow (Jessie Buckley) emerges at the public reading of Horace Delaney’s estate to reveal she is in fact his wife. She stands in the way of ruining James’ plan and may actually have a claim on Nootka Sound.
The formula for the show has evolved into witnessing James stroll through the grime and dirt of 1814 London in his top hat as he confuses the townsfolk by talking in gibberish and seemingly casting spells on those who defy him. On one hand, this sounds totally dull but on the other you can still feel something really promising on the cusp of occurring. There is incestuous tension between James and his half-sister Zilpha Geary (Oona Chaplin). The siblings share hungry glances at one another in public and originally had temporary comfort by being on opposite sides of the world when James was in Africa, but intriguingly enough there’s not much shame in their desires. Zilpha only seems resistant because of her commitment to her husband while James continues to stick with this unfaltering love for his sister being the only thing that hasn’t changed since disappearing 12 years ago.
Tom Hardy bares his first nude scene here, but actually wanted to go full frontal when developing the series. The loin cloth seen in production photos (or lack thereof, if you look a little harder) is something that wasn’t originally planned by Hardy. So far, Taboo has taken the tasteful approach as the nude scene actually unearths something shocking regarding the ship James just purchased. James basically lives on a steady stream of booze and nothing else. He doesn’t eat and has no interest in women other than his half-sister. The music has become more adventurous, as well. It seems to match stride with James as he walks through London with pounding strings seemingly accompanying James as he stomps in the mud. The strings lighten up and become more fanciful when James is attempting to stay quiet or when the situation calls for tip-toeing.
The last minute and a half of the episode hints at the direction you’re craving Taboo to go in with the most violent sequence featured so far. Having it set to Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony only makes it more memorable. Several conflicts are on the rise in Taboo and enemies are around every corner standing in James’ way. What is perhaps most fascinating is that you still don’t really know who to root for. You’re naturally attracted to James since he’s the central character, but wouldn’t it be something if he wasn’t the protagonist? He obviously isn’t a good guy, but maybe in this case Taboo is the story of evil playing a full hand and cleansing all that is good from the face of the earth.
“I like to see what lies beneath,” James mutters to Helga von Hinten as a sinister scheme with a gory execution is looming just beyond a gray-skied horizon. For everyone’s sake, the series needs to pick up the pace, deliver more of what James has in mind, and have more violence, more voodoo, and more tension from here on out. Taboo has been hinting at so much in its first two episodes. Viewers are becoming restless staring at this potentially bizarre witchcraft eclipse. The audience wants to know what Taboo is going to do now that it’s embedded itself into our eye sockets. Get your straitjackets ready. The world’s filthiest madhouse continues next week. 4.5/5 Chewy Neck Morsels.
2016 was a terrible year for many people and a variety reasons, but I like to think one of the reasons last year didn’t live up to expectations is because Tom Hardy was completely absent from TV and film for twelve whole months. After his incredible and Oscar nominated performance as John Fitzgerald in The Revenant, Hardy made himself busy working on Christopher Nolan’s super secretive World War II epic Dunkirk and filming his rumored cameo as a Stormtrooper in Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII, which are both due later this year; but, he also has this little eight part miniseries called Taboo written and created by himself, his father Edward “Chips” Hardy, and Steven Knight (writer and director of Locke and Peaky Blinders) with production credits from all of the above plus Ridley Scott.
And wouldn’t you know, Taboo just had its debut on FX this past Tuesday Night…
Taboo opens in London in 1814. You see man in a hooded poncho while relentless rain pours down from the sky as it drenches his surroundings and the soil he stomps upon. The man digs a hole in the soil, reveals a bag with unknown contents, and then proceeds to bury the bag in the weakened ground. As the man unhoods to reveal Tom Hardy underneath, you soon realize that this short sequence serves as blatant foreshadowing. This first episode is all about planting the seeds of the series.
Hardy injects himself into the role of James Keziah Delaney; a man long thought dead after traveling to Africa over a decade prior. James returns to London after learning that his father, Horace “Old Man” Delaney–whom everyone was convinced was insane–has just passed. After the bag in the rain, James’ peculiar behavior at the funeral immediately alerts you that he’s involved in black magic or voodoo of some kind. He’s constantly muttering in a foreign language, he doesn’t bow his head or pray in church, he uses graveyard dirt in a ritual as his father’s coffin is put to rest involving smearing the dirt under his right eye, and he’s constantly telling people that he did die, isn’t the same man, and has returned to execute foolish and sinful deeds.
James is seen making preparations around London. He pays grave robbers to dig up his father’s corpse and examine the stomach contents, he kicks a brothel full of prostitutes out of his father’s offices, and relies on the one person he feels like he can trust to assist him; his father’s butler Brace (David Hayman). James soon learns that he’s the sole heir of his father’s will from the family lawyer Robert Thoyt (Nicholas Woodeson), but his only inheritance is a small island known as Nootka Sound. The land is known for being swampy nothingness, but James has other plans.
Britain and the United States are at war and the East India Company is looking for a way to give Britain the upper hand. Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce), runs East India as its global Head. It turns out that Nootka Sound is an island that could give either side the advantage, so East India is forced to negotiate with the son of a madman who has a reputation for being savage and erratic. Meanwhile, Zilpha Geary (Oona Chaplin), Horace Delaney’s child from his second marriage and younger half-sister of James, is dealing with her brother returning from the dead. Her husband, Lieutenant Thorne Geary (Jefferson Hall), feels that they are entitled to the inheritance. It doesn’t help that they’re poor and his devotion to Christianity along with a knack for being utterly and unforgivably racist results in Thorne’s bloodthirsty desire to end James’ life.
This first episode is basically a tease. You know James is eventually going to snap and you absolutely cannot wait for it. The trailers hint at a stabbing similar to what occurred at the end of Brian Helgeland’s Legend. The inclusion of voodoo gives Taboo this Angel Heart meets The Serpent and the Rainbow kind of atmosphere. The ambience of the show is overwhelming in a fantastically satisfying sense. The 1800s come alive in this dark, dimly lit town with doors that achingly creak and bellow down empty hallways as they’re opened and footsteps echo off walls decorated with intricate woodwork and impressive paintings with elaborate gold colored frames. Candles, lanterns, and daylight seem foreign to this filthy community as a gray sky often sheds light on a town mostly devoid of color.
Tom Hardy has this exceptional way of portraying madness. He showcased that in The Revenant, he embodied it in Bronson, and in Taboo it’s a bit more controlled. He’s biding his time until it feels just right to unleash it. His blank stare is unparalleled as it seems empty, menacing, and absolutely filled with lunacy all with a single gaze. The highlight of the episode is when James is threatening the German brothel operator Helga von Hinten (Franka Potente). Hardy’s face is completely absent of emotion as his eyes refuse to blink while he tells Helga that he thrives on no sense and if she sends 12 men after him he’ll return 12 pairs of testicles in a bag and they’ll watch her whores devour them.
This is the calm before the storm. The lengths of what James has gone through to get here have yet to be seen. Taboo is about to get nasty and it’s going to be all the more delectable because of it. 5/5 Pairs of Bagged, Whore-Eaten Testicles.
Taboo airs on Saturdays on BBC One in the UK at 9:15pm and Tuesdays on FX at 10pm in the United States.