WTF Did I Just Watch A.K.A. Thoughts On ‘Taboo’

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I made it through the entirety of Tom Hardy’s television series, Taboo. Believe me, it was a struggle, but I managed to finish the first season. Taboo has an interesting premise. It is a Victorian era drama about James Delaney (Tom Hardy) a man presumed dead in Africa. But to the surprise of everyone, James returns to England after his father’s death to claim his shipping empire.

I am a huge Tom Hardy fan, so of course I was going to watch this show no matter what. Tom is a fine actor and I was impressed that he created the concept for the series with his father, Chips Hardy. I also enjoy Victorian dramas quite a bit as they are usually dark and gritty. Taboo does well to depict the grim realities of life in the Victorian age. But unfortunately as a whole the show is messy and a huge disappointment.

The biggest problem for Taboo is the character of James Delaney. He is the protagonist of the show, yet he has no redeeming qualities. He often references how horrible he is and the horrible things he has done. He sees everyone around him as a tool to be used. He doesn’t seem to care about money, yet he is willing to do anything and to kill anyone to have possession of his father’s shipping company. Delaney doesn’t even care about his own son! He says he cares about his sister, Zilpha, but his actions say otherwise. It is impossible to connect with Delaney or to care what happens to him. As a result, it is impossible to care about anything that happens on Taboo.

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Oona Chaplin as Zilpha Geary.

There is one character on Taboo that I have sympathized with: Zilpha Geary as played by Oona Chaplin (Whom I will never forgive for ruining Robb Stark). Now, James and Zilpha have had a complicated relationship. It isn’t fleshed out very well (as nothing is on this show). But it is revealed that at one time they had an incestuous relationship. Zilpha did not want to be with James though and married another man while James was in Africa. When James comes back to England his mission, other than obtaining his father’s shipping empire, seems to be to win Zilpha back. Yes, the fact that it is incest makes the whole scenario icky. But James’s love of Zilpha is the only human quality he possesses, so I accepted it.

Zilpha kills her husband after he puts her through an extremely disturbing exorcism in an attempt to exorcise James from her mind. Zilpha finally gives in to her desire to be with James. But he rebukes her. I have absolutely no idea why he rejects her (seriously someone please explain this to me). James’s rejection of Zilpha crushes her. So the season finale opens with Zilpha committing suicide.

WTF!!!!! Why?!?!?!?! It makes no sense to me to build this character up throughout the whole season. To have her struggle with herself and against her bastard husband. To then just unceremoniously kill her off. Zilpha was immensely important to the show. James Delaney as a character has no redeeming qualities. His love of Zilpha is the only emotion he ever shows. Even though their relationship was sick, I was rooting for them. It gave me something to hope for. Zilpha was the only character on the entire show to be fleshed out at all. She was sympathetic, a quality that is much needed in a show filled with horrible people.

James has such little emotional capacity that even Zilpha’s death gets hardly any reaction from him. He sits and mopes and grunts, but that’s it. THIS WAS THE LOVE OF HIS LIFE. But Taboo quickly moves on to explosions and shootouts because who needs character development???

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Tom Hardy as James Delaney.

Taboo never explores the issues that might elevate it above forgettable melodrama. The incest issue is given next to no consideration. Zilpha struggles with it, but James doesn’t give it a second thought. Until he rejects her. Then there is the mystery of James’s son. Is Zilpha the mother? Why does James not care for him? (That’s easy: James doesn’t care for anyone). Also is James crazy? Or does he really possess some voodoo magic? Again we will never know! All that the writers want to focus on is James’s battle against the East India Company, which is the least compelling element of the show.

I have been ambiguous about Taboo for the most part. I have watched every episode neither glued to the screen, nor completely bored. That is until I watched the season finale. It enraged me so much I wanted to turn the television off and ‘Eternal Sunshine’ this show from my memory. What a huge waste of time Taboo is.

James Delaney is a problem that I don’t believe the show writers will be able to fix if there is a second season. The writers had enough sense to kill off about two thirds of the cast in the last 10 minutes. But that won’t be enough to save this mess of a show. Don’t waste your time on Taboo. 3 top hats out of 10

Tidbits:

  • One thing I do love is Taboo’s title sequence. Beautiful imagery and music.
  • Why is the show so visually dark? I understand it’s the Victorian era, all dark and smoky, but I can’t see anything!
  • I also can’t hear anything. Tom please speak up and stop mumbling!
  • Can we talk about the King and his horrible makeup/fat suit? Laughably horrible prosthetics.
  • Tom does look awfully cool walking around in a top hat though.
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Tom Hardy as James Delaney.
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