Review: British colossus, Tom Hardy, teamed up with his Locke’s director, Steven Knight, for a period revenge-thriller, Taboo. Same as the title, the whole episode of this FX/BBC collaboration is often being too dark, too gritty, and too grim; hence, taboo.
Tom Hardy stars in this complicated 18th century London, where worlds’ biggest colonial trading companies compete. Hardy is James Delaney, a prodigal son of a wealthy man who owned a sacred land called Nootka. Presumed dead for years in aftermath of a boating accident in Africa, James returns for his father’s funeral – just in time to ruin some plans to claim the late Mr. Delaney’s land.
Directed by Kristoffer Nyholm and Anders Engström, Taboo brings exotic beauty to the bleak atmosphere that covers the whole episodes. The aesthetic elements of this series are nothing like you’ve seen before – combining the gothic looks of London slums and some tribal rituals (which explains James’ lost history) – but, they’re walking hand in hand with the plot: an over-complicated simple revenge plan. The direction is superb as it ensures continuality between each thread spread in each episode. The performance is top-notch, and if you’re a fan of Hardy, this would definitely suit you.
However, if you’re looking for character development, Taboo might not be the one you’re looking for. At first few episodes, it might seem that this story is about a character study of a man, once lost in time, who returns to society to reclaim his right. You’re exposed to back stories and some tribal ritual that misleads you into thinking about character study. But, even if it looks like one; it isn’t. With all the messed-up threads it tries to neat, Taboo isn’t about James Delaney. It’s about his revenge and his claim for his father’s legacy and no other. His character’s persona might look like a psychedelic pre-punk punk, and that’s interesting to dig up. But, Taboo refuses to do that. Instead, it appears as a crowd-pleasing revenge thriller.
In the first episode, you’ll know that James returns just in time as there’s a plot between his enigmatic sister, Zilpha (Oona Chaplin, Game of Thrones) and her broke husband, with the East India Company led by Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce, Game of Thrones, too). At the same time, he also inherits his father shipping company, which might provoke irks from other parties as well. His goal, after all, is to either get rid of those people or get along with them to secure to inheritance. Seems complicated? No.
However, Taboo loves to make it complicated. For the first few episodes, audiences are given task to simply identify which is ally and which is enemy; and more, we’re given task to follow James Delaney’s mission to assemble people to be in his ranks. There are allusions to past he’s overcome, but we’re never really going there as the story moves forward to follow Delaney’s plan. By the time we realize it’s only moving forwards (and some revelations about past are told in such way), we understand that there’s no mystery left to solve at all. The only thing we look forward is: how will the final revenge pays off?
Then, what makes Taboo taboo? Well, apparently some of behavior carried along the story. James befriends social rejects, instead of aristocrats or the likes. He works with prostitutes and the pimp, Helga (Franka Potente) to carry his plans along. At the same time, he often conducts enigmatic rituals, which are worth a cringe – like some naked ritual or love ritual. There are also some scenes about dark magic visuals and, most importantly, there’s incestuous romance that might certify Taboo as a taboo thing.
Taboo seems like moving so fast; yet, on the penultimate episode, you’ll learn that it hasn’t actually moved anywhere from the pilot. While the first two episodes serve as orientation, the next five episodes merely work as prolonged build-ups, with each episode contribute more to the explosive finale but less to Delaney’s character development, let alone some supporting roles.
All those messy threads exhibited in the beginning are finally tidied up – some in satisfying methods, the rest goes anti-climax (esp. the one that tangles Zilpha in). During the voyage, those taboo things I mentioned previously are attached to the main storyline whether as catalyst or merely gimmick. Lucky, the finale pays off. All the build-ups culminated in the very explosive final episode, which goes full rampage at full speed. The tolls are great, but the aftermath is greater than it. In the end, it leads to a satisfying revenge we’ve been waiting for.
With all the build-ups and compelling performances from its ensemble of cast, Taboo delivers a crowd-pleasing revenge thriller which demands audiences’ patience. It takes time to finally deliver its final punch, but the long road is worth the wait.