Taboo — A Wickedly Good Show

James Delaney Taboo
Screenshot / BBC

I recall watching FX at some point in 2017 and seeing brief promos for the show Taboo. I thought it looked intriguing, plus Tom Hardy was the star, and who doesn’t love Tom Hardy? FX has an amazing track record (in my opinion) when it comes to its programming. So, I told myself I’d give Taboo a look, but shamefully I forgot. However, nowadays, my obsession with Hardy is full-blown, so I decided to binge Taboo finally, and I’m so glad I did!

The name certainly applies to the themes in the show. If you are uncomfortable with incest, torture, and the occult, this wouldn’t be the show for you. If you enjoy all of the above with some history and bizarre shit thrown in, then you are in for a treat.

I won’t lie the central conflict in the show can be a little hard to follow at first, especially if you’re not familiar with the war between Britain and America in 1812, but I will do my best to break it down.

James Delaney close up
Screenshot / BBC

James Delaney

Hardy plays James Delaney, a former soldier for the East India Company, who was thought to be dead as he disappeared along with a slave ship in 1804. It turns out he wasn’t dead but alive in Africa. After witnessing how enslaved Africans were treated, he grew a hatred for the British Crown and the East India Co. James also picked up some rituals from Africa and believes he can speak to the dead, among other things.

Ten years pass, and it is 1814. Delaney seemingly returns to London from the dead. His return coincides with his father’s funeral. James’ sister, Zilpha, was thought to be the one who would inherit the deed to Nootka Sound, an island her father owned. The East India Company made a deal with her to buy the land.

Alas, their father left the land to James, who has no plans of letting the East India Company have it.

Nootka Sound

Nootka Sound is an island near what is now known as British Columbia in Canada. The British and Americans were fighting over who would obtain ownership of the land. The British thought they would succeed because Zilpha agreed to sell it to them when her father died. However, since James inherits it and refuses to sell, the East India Co. decides they need to get rid of him so that the land reverts back to Zilpha.

James is a smart cookie and is always five steps ahead of his opponents. He goes to a lawyer and has a will drawn up. In the event of his death, the land will be given to the Americans. That move is the beginning of a long fight. The land is important to James as it’s where his mother and her tribe were from. It turns out that James’ father had bought her and the land for mere beads.

James with ritual make up on
Screenshot / Peacock

Speaking of James’ mother, she was assumed to have a mental disorder in which she was a danger to others and herself. She is portrayed as also knowing rituals that seem supernatural in nature. Perhaps James inherited his traits from his mother, supernatural or otherwise.

James & Zilpha

Apart from the fight over Nootka, we have James’ relationship with his sister. We learn almost immediately upon James’s return that their relationship is much more than that of siblings. Before James went missing, he and his sister were in love and banging it out in secrecy.

James and Zilpha close up
Screenshot / Peacock

Believing he was long dead, Zilpha tries to rid herself of her past demons and turns to Christianity. While trying to be “normal,” she marries a mean-tempered wealthy local, Thorne Geary. We can add Geary to the list of people with a vendetta against James, as he wanted to gain even more wealth with the money they would make from selling Nootka.

James doesn’t believe for a second that Zilpha has moved on from him, and he makes it clear that she and he are connected and that she belongs to him.

Along the way, James makes allies who help him in his plan to screw over Britain and leave for America with Zilpha. Things don’t always go as planned though, which makes for some good drama.

My Thoughts

The series can feel like a slow burn at times. Personally, I don’t mind as long as the story continuously pushes forward, which it does. There is also a fine line between the supernatural elements and mental health which is continually blurred throughout the season. As a viewer, we can assume either, and it would be correct. Speculating what is true/false is always enjoyable to me when watching a show like this. Most important, you get to look at Tom Hardy for eight episodes.

Creator Steven Knight, along with Hardy, has said for many years now that Season 2 is imminent. The recent pandemic and scheduling conflicts have delayed it for quite some time, but it seems the gears are finally turning, and the production could start shooting this year.

With that being said, now is the perfect time to catch up on Season 1. You can watch Taboo on Peacock and Amazon Freevee.

Written by Felicia Nickens

Lover of television, film, & the macabre.

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