Foreword (prior to Taboo S1E1):
Every now and then an artist comes along whose work transcends everyone else’s. All of his or her peers and contemporaries, accomplished as they may be, are left in the dust. This high regard, of course, is always subjective to varying degree, but usually to little or no argument from those whose opinions are viable. Anyone who has immersed themselves in that artist’s medium enough to have a decent take on “what’s good” can usually recognize their greatness, even if their work isn’t exactly their cup of tea.
I’m always excited when one of these prodigies comes along. As we all get older and think we’ve perhaps seen it all – that art, in whatever form, has reached a repetitive state, or simply a dead end, it’s always refreshing to have that notion chopped down by a new wave of genius. Be it Jack White or Banksy or Vince Gilligan, taking a medium and standing it on its ear is all in a day’s work. And so has it become with Tom Hardy. For me, this dude can do no wrong. And it’s no secret to the masses. He has become the it-man in Hollywood, and not just for leading roles, but interesting and mysterious supporting ones as well. His dual performance in Legend was nothing short of a tour-de-force, and his supporting role in The Revenant garnered him an Academy nomination.
So when I heard Hardy was teaming up with Ridley Scott and Steven Knight to do a TV show, I was immediately excited. Scott is one of my all-time heroes, and Knight’s Peaky Blinders is about as good as it gets. That precedent aside, it’s now been several weeks and I’m still not sure exactly what it’s going to be about. The trailers look cool and enticing, if not gloomy and ambiguous (much like Hardy himself). But there’s certainly been times in the past with cool looking trailers when expectations far outweigh what the anticipated product ends up actually being, and I’m really hoping this isn’t the case with Taboo. I’m writing this foreword just hours before the premiere, just to go on record as having high hopes that this will end up being a classic. The reputations are there, the previews look great, but all I really needed to be locked in were those seven magic words I first heard months ago:
“Tom Hardy is doing a television show.” I’m in. Don’t let me down…
- 6pm, January 10th 2017
Well, the long-anticipated premiere of the FX series Taboo has come and gone. Yet I don’t completely feel like the wait is over. I’m definitely intrigued by what I just saw, and can’t wait for E2, and was certainly (and not surprisingly) impressed with Tom Hardy, but I still feel like the vote is out on whether this is ultimately going to be awesome.
I kind of expected it to be weird and ambiguous, given the nature of the trailers and what seemed to be elements of the supernatural in them. And Hardy is often a bit dapper and subliminal in his performances, especially early on, so it was also no surprise that it’s probably going to take a while to get a good read on the nature of his character. But coming away from this initial screening of this series opening episode, I’m completely on hold as to what I think of it, or expect it to become. It could go either way, great or terrible, modestly or to the extreme.
Hardy plays James Delaney, the only son of the recently deceased Horace Delaney. Presumed dead after disappearing in Africa, James returns to London for his father’s funeral and to claim his inheritance – a piece of land off Vancouver Island that is quite valuable to the warring British and American governments. Shocked at his return are his half-sister Zilpha (played by Oona Chaplin, granddaughter of Charlie – yes, that Charlie) and her husband Thorne (Jefferson Hall), who had plans to sell the land they thought was surely bequeathed to them. Also in the mix are the late Horace’s lawyer, the seedy Mr. Thoyt (Nicholas Woodeson), and Brace (David Hayman), who was Horace’s loyal servant.
After a less-than-heart-warming reunion with Zilpha and Thorne, James meets with the East India Company, the potential buyers of the land, headed by the ruthless Sir Stuart Strange (the great Jonathan Pryce). Incensed by this younger Delaney’s unexpected return, and his refusal of an even greater offer for the prized land, Strange and Company begin plans to deal with this stubborn new problem.
Meanwhile, James visits Brace, and learns that his father was going mad in his later years, which compels James to have his body exhumed and examined by a coroner. This reveals that indeed there was arsenic in his blood, and so had been poisoned gradually in his later years, no doubt leading to his madness.
I’m sure I’m leaving out a lot of details, but an overall take is what I’m going for here. If I had to boil it down to a word, it would be “intrigued”. The only thing that really bothered me was Chaplin’s character of Zilpha. If Olive Oyl from Popeye spent a year with the Addams Family this would be what you’d get. But aside from that, from the opening scene, with its gloomy weather, authentic costumes, and set design that would give Game of Thrones a run for its money, the stage is set for potential greatness. Hardy is immediately cool as hell, sporting a top hat tilted intimidatingly forward a tad, just to let you know he has the juice to pull it off. His performance is a bit reminiscent of his portrayal of Mr. Solomons in Peaky Blinders, only surprisingly with a more distinct delivery of dialogue. And with all the macabre rumors of Delaney’s time in Africa, and a simmering temper you know is being only temporarily held at bay, one thing is deliciously certain: there will be a reckoning. And it will surely be awesome, but until then we’ll have to wait and see if Knight, Scott, & company can deliver a worthy means to that end.