Episode one of FX’s new series Taboo left me wondering, “Just how good was what I just watched?” Well, now having watched episode two, I’m thinking, “Pretty good. I think. But it’s going to be a slow and complicated burn. So take a chance and give it more time.”
This certainly seemed to be one of those episodes where a lot of plot information needed to be laid out for the greater good of the series as a whole. There were a couple of surprises and reveals, but nothing that would be considered a major spoiler if you read about it here first. In the opening scene, Stuart Strange, head of the East India Company, blatantly discusses ordering the death of James Delaney, and berates his lackey Pettifer for his failure to carry out the deed. Meanwhile, we catch a glimpse of Delaney digging up something we caught a glimpse of him burying in the first episode – a small bundled up cloth that we eventually learn contains a handful of quartz-like crystals. He then uses some of them to purchase a ship at auction, which he plans to use to start up a trading company of his own. When Strange learns of this, he suspects Delaney has made a deal with the Americans on his own, effectively cutting into the East India Company’s opportunities as the War of 1812 draws to a close.
Delaney pays a visit to Atticus (an almost unrecognizable Stephen Graham), an old acquaintance Delaney had before disappearing to Africa. He demands his horse be returned, which he claims Atticus stole from him. Instead, Atticus warns Delaney that he was hired by the East India Company to kill Delaney’s father Horace, which he refused to do. This furthers Delaney’s suspicion that malicious forces were behind Horace’s death. He begins to assemble a crew for his ship and lay plans for his trading company.
In a bizarre scene, a 13-year old prostitute warns Delaney that a man with a silver tooth has been hired to kill him. He has her take him by rowboat at night to the houseboat that this would be assassin supposedly lives on, and Delaney proceeds to burn it down. The weirdness continues when Delaney has more trippy flashbacks and begins speaking a strange language. I’m sure it will all make more sense as the series goes on, but for now it just seems like eye candy for shock value.
The most pivotal scene of the episode (if not perhaps the most predictable) is the public reading of Horace’s will, with Delaney, Zilpha, her husband Thorne, and an angry crowd of various businessmen Horace owed money to in attendance. Administered by Horace’s lawyer, Thoyt, it is first announced that Zilpha is to receive nothing, much to her rather unsurprised chagrin. James, on the other hand, is to receive everything. The crowd of creditors immediately erupt, but James quickly stifles their outrage by paying each of them off. But the scene takes another tumultuous turn when a woman comes forward and claims to be the widow of Horace Delaney, and therefore has a claim on the estate presumed only moments before to belong entirely to James, who can only stare at her in disbelief.
Later, Thoyt discusses with Strange and the rest of the East India Company the legitimacy of the widow, which he implies could be used to their advantage against Delaney. They conspire further to having him killed. In the last scene, Delaney is stabbed by the man with a silver tooth. However, in their ensuing struggle, Delaney manages to kill him instead. Delaney lies in the street bleeding badly as this final scene fades out.
I feel the series needs to be given the chance of at least a couple more episodes. The acting alone from Hardy and Pryce garner that consideration. But I feel like something needs to ramp up a bit. I’m not sure exactly what. Maybe it’s the secondary characters. Maybe it’s the storyline. Maybe it’s some of the ambiguities needing better explanation. Whatever it is, I hope it comes sooner rather than later. Because I plan to stick it out to the end, regardless of how good or bad it gets, if for no other reason than to see Hardy eventually go nuts and unleash his wrath. If nothing else, we can rest assured that we know that’s coming. And it will be awesome. Right?