Review: Taboo (Season 1, Episode 1)

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Sweep and grandeur is not something producer Ridley Scott is lacking in his production. Therefore, going into Taboo somewhat cold, I knew the overall scope of this miniseries would be unparalleled. Plus, he coaxed the notoriously selective Tom Hardy into a limited-run series which seemed like a tantalizing proposition. By all accounts, Taboo is a stupendous showcase for both men.

Reminiscent of a Danny Elfman music box, the opening credits allude to a supernatural presence over the proceedings as bodies wade in the water before James Delaney (Hardy) awakens and resurfaces. Writer Steven Knight doesn’t coddle the audience. Delaney’s African timeline is delayed for later episodes and flashbacks. Much of this pilot episode consisted of character-based uncertainty about the “unnatural” reports of Delaney’s 10-year disappearance.

With a stride that suggests he hasn’t shed any of his scapular muscles, Hardy swaggers into a church like a reborn corpse which is hypothesized by his half-sister Zilpha (Oona Chaplin). At the funeral site, he chants an indistinct hymn and Hardy fully conveys the portrait of a formerly irate enfant-terrible who has gone through a chrysalis transformation.

Sadly, much of Hardy’s recent roles have pivoted too heavily on his brooding testosterone, marblemouth accents and tilted-head posturing. For Delaney, we see the bruised, tattered heart beneath the bravado and grumbly demeanor. He plainly states that his hiatus in Africa didn’t “cure him” of his love for Zilpha. I do hope that the next few episodes illustrate a more palpable picture of Delaney’s estrangement with his deceased father. It also might serve as explanation for Delaney’s withdrawal from his own son.

For those with a taste for historical fiction, the East India Company represents an ecumenical nemesis for all parties. There have been quibbles from the historian society about the demonization but Jonathan Pryce is a splendidly priggish foe for his father’s inheritance. Undoubtedly, he will be more crucial in the coming episodes.

I loved the exchange between Delaney and a brandy-besotted acquaintance which is the basis for Delaney’s omniscience or seance-esque communication with the dead. He is monosyllabic about knowledge of his mother but he is obviously withholding his unfettered abilities. By the way, the television landscape is becoming more lax around profanity censorship was “fuck” was liberally used throughout the episode.

This introductory episode is a bit ergodic and wobbly around Delaney’s inauspicious homecoming. Whenever the episode fluttered back to Zilpha and her jaundiced husband Thorne (Jefferson Hall), it sputters its wheels in the murky London detritus. Luckily, each peel of the onion reveals a deeper layer of compunction (his bastardized son was under a caretaker’s supervision while James trekked across another continent) and ties to “witchcraft” within Delaney.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5

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