Taboo Amps up Its Shock Value and Its Storytelling

first_img Taboo’s Finale Lived up to Most of Its PromisesTaboo Delivers Answers, Intrigue and a Torturous Cliffhanger Stay on target It may have gotten off to a very slow start, but the pieces of Taboo‘s story are starting to fall into place. The first two episodes mostly fluctuated between being uncomfortable and dull, with fleeting moments of brilliance, thanks to the cast. The third episode manages to move the story along with very few dull moments, and plenty of discomforts. Taboo, by design, is not a pleasant show to watch. It’s ugly, bleak and disturbing. Those are some of its best qualities.The show began with some kids walking along the river and coming across a dead body. The body has a few holes in it, including one in the neck and a large cavity where his heart used to be. It’s the silver-toothed man who tried to kill James Keziah Delaney at the end of the last episode. As the kids rip out the dead man’s silver tooth, we cut to Delaney, who is having the American doctor/spy stitch him up. Without anesthetic. That’s the kind of show this is.Delaney takes the opportunity to ask about contacting President Jefferson. He doesn’t quite get there, but he does tell the doctor, and us, exactly what he wants. In exchange for Nootka Sound, he wants a monopoly on all trade coming through Nootka from China. As he puts it, he’s literally asking for all the tea in China. For his trouble, he learns that Carlsbad, the person who can put him in contact with the president is a woman. That narrows it down.Michael Kelly as Dumbarton. (Photo: Screenshot via FX)Delaney also takes steps to ensure the East India Company doesn’t send any more assassins after him. He draws up a will, knowing that it will reach them, stating that in the event of his death, Nootka Sound will become the property of the United States. He then makes them the same offer he made the Americans, although this time, not explicitly mentioning tea. Delaney now has a clear goal he’s working towards, which immediately makes the show better.Of course, it is dragged down by scenes of Delaney searching his house and finding nothing in particular. A prolonged conversation with Delaney’s Butler seems to hint that the woman who’s been haunting his visions is his mother. That’s something anyone paying the slightest bit of attention has already figured out. He finds a bird-shaped etching matching a tattoo on his back scratched into the fireplace of the room where his mother was kept at the end of her life. Where this all is going, I have no idea, and the show hasn’t given me much reason to care. It feels like Taboo is insisting there’s a mystery at the heart of the show, but refuses to let us know what that mystery is.What saved the episode was that Tom Hardy didn’t have to carry it all himself. The women in his life were each given a chance to shine. We got to know their lives, their goals, and their stakes. Delaney’s sister, Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) and his stepmother, Lorna Bow (Jessie Buckley) are both given some much-needed depth. Not only does this give Delaney more obstacles to struggle with, but it also fleshes out the world and makes for a much more interesting show.Things get weird in the church. (Photo: Screenshot via FX)First, in a series of letters between Zilpha and Delaney, Zilpha repeatedly rejects his advances. She mentions that her husband sees the letters come in and punishes her for it. She begs him to stop writing, but he persists anyway. Eventually, she requests to meet him in a church. There, she straddles and kisses her brother, hoping that will be enough for them to never see each other again. Delaney, of course, insists that she will.Delaney also gets a visit from his sister’s husband, Thorne. He just came by to brag about how great sex with his wife has become since Delaney returned. He also says that she loves it when he punishes her. Thorne later continues to prove what a stand-up guy he is when he gets home and berates Zilpha for not getting pregnant. This is how the show excels in making its audience extremely uncomfortable. Zilpha’s husband is so terrible to her that you start to root for him to die so she can get with Delaney… then you realize that Delaney is her brother (ew) and a stalker who can’t take no for an answer (also ew).Elsewhere in Delaney’s life, Lorna has moved into his house, enforcing her claim on half of her late husband’s possessions. She offers Delaney a trade: his half of the house for her half of Nootka sound. He refuses and also forbids her from going to her performance that night. She, he says, is a weakness. She insists on going and Delaney, not wanting to make life harder on him or his butler than it already is, orders two carriages and follows her.That turns out to be a good thing because the East India trading company planned to use Lorna to get at Delaney. After her performance, she is kidnapped and taken to a nobleman who thinks he has bought her for the night. The East India, knowing that Lorna doesn’t offer sex work services on the side, sold her to the man knowing she’d fight back. As the nobleman grabs her, she stabs him before Delaney appears with a gun, and forces the man to let them both leave. Delaney insists he’s right. Lorna is a weakness. He offers her a diamond with which she can escape to France. Not willing to play the damsel in distress, Lorna refuses the diamond and storms away. Lorna is quickly becoming my favorite character on the show.Jessie Buckley as Lorna Bow-Delaney. (Photo via FX)Taboo was weighed down by a slow, plodding narrative for its first two episodes. The production values and the acting made it something worth paying attention to. Now, the story is finally moving, and it’s taking real steps to overcome its initial weaknesses. Giving Lorna and Zilpha something to do takes the pressure off of Tom Hardy. He no longer has to carry the entire show. Now he has two other fully fleshed out characters to act against, and the show is much more exciting for it. For the first time this season, I’m really looking forward to seeing where Taboo goes next week.last_img read more