Two weeks ago FX debuted the premier for it’s latest primetime drama, Taboo. A period piece set 1800s Britain, Taboo revealed little and promised less in the months leading up to episode one. The preceding promo spots were, at times, painfully cryptic. They revealed little and promised less, choosing rather to rely on the names of Tom Hardy and Ridley Scott. Whether by design or apathy on my part I knew very little going into episode one.
James Keziah Delaney, long presumed dead, returns to the UK from Africa in order to inherit his father’s trading company. Delaney’s unexpected appearance instantly places him in the crosshairs of the East India Company. Eager to lay claim to a key piece of land inherited by Delaney, the Company quickly moves to eliminate Delaney from the picture. Wise from unknown but haunting adventures in Africa, Delaney enters a complex dance of danger, nation building, and revenge.
It quickly becomes obviously that Delaney’s travels have had an effect on him. His experiences seemingly refuse to quietly retire, often rearing their head in the form of flashbacks or mumblings in an unknown language. On more than one occasion Delaney has noted that “[he] knows things about the dead” with a gaze so unrelenting it is near impossible to doubt him.
It is in scenes like this were Hardy thrives. It would appear that Bane and his character from The Revenant were just warmups for his performance as James Delaney. Haunted and brooding, Hardy’s performance is unescapable. The surrounding cast is equally as good on paper but pale in comparison. Hardy, in combination with phenomenal writing by Steven Knight, has created a show reminiscent of The Heart of Darkness.
I think at the end of the day this is why I like Taboo so much. Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness has always been one of my favorite novels. The atmosphere Conrad creates is unmistakable and unrelenting. Taboo is the first story to tap into that since Apocalypse Now!. It goes a step further, creating a world in which Kurtz has emerged from the Heart of Darkness. He now walks the streets of a 19th century London playing a game with everyone in which he alone knows the rules.
Taboo will not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is slow. The story is sprinkled with brilliant flashes of violence but largely driven by the knowledge of something larger lurking beneath the surface. Don’t expect this show to light your hair on fire, but it will have you thinking about it long after the credits roll.
Have you seen Taboo yet? Share your own thoughts in the comments below.
Until next time,