'Taboo' delivers as a captivating, dark period piece

Josh VanDyke • Apr 14, 2017 at 4:49 AM

Recently, the entertainment business began shifting more of its attention toward television series that can be digested in binges by audiences that would rather stay at home and use Netflix or Hulu than pay for overpriced movie tickets and popcorn.

This development has sparked headline movie actors and actresses to take their talents from the big screen to take on roles in TV series they might not have otherwise done even two or three years ago. As a byproduct of this movement, I decided to review a television series that caught my attention.

“Taboo” is a television series that premiered in January on both FX and the BBC One overseas.

The series is set in London in the year 1814. The Revolutionary War had come and gone and the War of 1812 was reaching its conclusion. It stars Tom Hardy as James Keziah Delaney, a weathered, mysterious man who returns home to London after being held prisoner in Africa for more than 10 years.

In the opening episode, we learn that Delaney returned home to inherit his father’s shipping empire after his recent death. The only problem is that everyone in town believed that the younger Delaney had been long dead after the ship he was commanding reportedly sank along the shores of Africa.

We quickly learn that Delaney’s father did not die of natural causes, but instead, was a victim of a cruel conspiracy by a rival shipping company called the “honorable” East India Company.

The entire series plays out like a game of chess between Delaney and his many enemies that lurk in every dark corner of town. James finds ways to navigate the complex ground war by attempting to stay one step ahead of his opposers. Naturally, there are plenty of wrenches thrown in his plans, and he must adjust on the fly, before he, too, falls victim to the poisonous political battle.

The plot entails conspiracy, murder, betrayal, and a dark family secret that eats at Delaney with each passing moment.

What first drew me into the series was when I heard that Tom Hardy was taking on a role in a television series that was considered “dark and gloomy.” Other than a brief attempt as a romantic comedy star in the movie “This Means War” with Reese Witherspoon and Chris Pine, Hardy has become an Oscar-nominated actor with roles in which he plays the antagonist.

Many people became aware of his name when he took on the role as Bane in the “The Dark Knight Rises.” He also steals the spotlight in movies such as “The Warrior,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Child 44,” “Legend” and “The Revenant.”

He might not be the antagonist in Taboo, but his ability to play a dark, twisted character has served him well as of late, and his role as the tortured soul of James Delaney appears to be right in his wheelhouse. There might not be an actor or actress that is better at capturing an audience’s emotions with simple eye contact, body language and a primitive grunt than Hardy, and he uses that to turn Taboo into an emotional thriller that has you holding your breath whenever Hardy’s character comes on screen.

On top of my fandom of the majority of Hardy’s work, I’m also a history buff. So, anything involving the early stages of Western civilization taking form will immediately capture my imagination.

This takes hold in the end of the first episode of the series, when we learn that Delaney’s father’s will grants him the ownership of a small island off the coast of Africa that is a centerpiece in the trading ports that control the shipping of tea from China to the rest of the world.

This creates a bidding war between the “The Crown” of England and the “Americans.” The history lessons, combined with the never-ending plot twists, well-written script and distinguished cast, make this series a binge-worthy choice for anyone dreading a lapse between shows.

After experiencing the show as a normal television series and waiting for each episode every week, I highly recommend waiting for the show to come to Netflix or find it online in various Reddit threads so you can consume it all at once.

The show starts slowly, which drew the ire of many critics initially, but it picked up momentum slowly and finished with a final episode that had more plot twists than “Oceans’ 12.” I appreciated the slow start, because it gave us a chance to understand all the pieces in the chess match. Midway through the first season, we knew all the strengths and weaknesses of James Delaney, the East India Company, and the two nations on the verge of war.

The show has an interesting premise and follows through on most of its potential, but still leaves an open-ended plot line as to where the series will go from here. The show often feels like a darker take on “Pirates of the Caribbean,” replacing an awkward, off-balance Jack Sparrow, with an intimidating, grim James Delaney.

As the dog days of summer creep closer, make sure you add “Taboo” to your viewing queue.

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