Taboo (S01E02): “Episode Two”

Taboo’s second episode manages to reveal more while also becoming more complicated. Tom Hardy once again carries the show on his charismatic shoulders as some interesting wrinkles are showing in his carefully crafted tapestry of revenge. However, the episode suffered from some pacing issues and felt overlong as it over explained itself.

Delaney’s plans begin to materialize: He is going to start a shipping company in his inherited territory in direct opposition to the East India Company. He gathers eccentric allies, including Atticus (Stephen Graham) and surprisingly, Helga (Franka Potente), the madam he threw out of a family property in the previous episode. Delaney uses these allies to find the man who tried to have his father murdered…and who may be ready to kill him.

Strange (Jonathan Pryce) makes it clear that he wants Delaney dead at all costs. Delaney seems to be getting the better of the “Mighty East,” until he faces an unexpected obstacle: His father’s widow, Lorna (Jessie Buckley). She looks to claim a piece of the Delaney empire.

A Rogue’s Gallery

Hardy continues to be the most watchable grouch ever put on screen as he literally carries the episode on his shoulders. Even when Delaney walks through the streets of London, you can’t take your eyes off him. The steely gaze, the confident stride…he tells a story with his body language.

Tom Hardy as Delaney source: Sonar Entertainment

One of the standout scenes in the episode occurs when Delaney inspects the first vessel for his shipping company. Hardy shows us that it is a former slave ship. Delaney finds beads from jewelry and chains throughout the ship. He becomes physically distressed, feeling the need to possibly cleanse the ship. Not a word is spoken and it is never needed.

This is the first real clue we have gotten about Delaney’s motivation. It’s a given that all of this is for revenge, but what for? And against whom? The East India Company? Strange? Himself?

Something happened on that slave ship that nearly took Delaney’s life in Africa and these little hints are expertly done. It must have been extremely traumatic as he is willing to pit two warring nations against each other. As Delaney put it, he is counting on the “Angry Nation” of America. Intriguing.

As entertaining as Hardy is on his own, it’s cool to see him gather allies just as eccentric as he is. Wait a second, I have to get this out of my system…

ATTICUS!

ATTICUS!!! source: Sonar Entertainment

Stephen Graham’s Atticus is introduced in one of the more confusingly amusing scenes so far in the show. Starting with Delaney theatrically calling out his name, Atticus gets a hell of an entrance. With his shaved and tattooed head, the man is an intimidating presence. The fact that he’s trying to write a book about Delaney’s experiences in Africa (At least I think that’s what he’s doing…I really should turn on the subtitles during their exchanges) is a fun little touch.

Graham is excellent as the character, oozing sleaze in nearly every word and movement. The fact that Atticus was approached to kill Delaney’s father makes him less than trustworthy, but Delaney knows he needs men like this to navigate the seedy underbelly of London.

The most interesting ally though is Winter, a young girl who helps Delaney. Her introduction is one of my favorite scenes from the episode. This little girl manages to sneak up on Delaney and offers to help find his potential killer. Their meeting is soaked with creepy atmosphere and Winter’s slowly mannered speech is off putting.

While Delaney figures out that Winter is Helga’s daughter, I’m convinced that she is only in his head. Yes, Helga never says Winter isn’t her daughter, but she never claims her either. Remember, Helga knows of Delaney’s reputation as a crazed misfit; maybe she is just humoring him. The way Winter disappeared after Delaney returned from his assailant’s ship suggests something more to the character.

The widow Lorna’s appearance is the most game-changing plot turn in the episode. Delaney actually looks worried! Though we don’t get to spend a whole lot of time with her, Jessie Buckley gives Lorna utter confidence. That charming smile also adds a sense of mischief to the character and she seems to know how to handle Delaney’s gruff questioning.

Must You Explain Everything

As good as much of the episode is, it does feel like it goes on for too long. After Lorna is introduced, it felt like a fitting ending. But the show continues and feels like it is going through the motions.

The most maddening aspect of this occurs after Lorna’s presence spreads through London. The show feels the need to explain her significance through Strange and the rest of the East India Company. With so much awesome visual storytelling earlier, this scene sticks out like a sore thumb.

In fact almost everything involving the East India Company feels heavy handed in this episode. Jonathan Pryce is great as Strange, but the show constantly reminds us that the historic company is the “Big Bad” of the Taboo. I get that the company is a apt stand in for modern corrupt corporate power, but it just becomes too much.

source: Sonar Entertainment

The Prince Regent’s (Mark Gatiss) appearance is cool because it shows just how much Delaney’s plans are affecting the larger world, but in the end it felt a bit pointless. I believe it is used to show just how much more respect and fear that Strange commands over the leader of a country, but again, this is unnecessary. We’ve seen this already.

Another problem is Oona Chaplin’s Zilpha. I was a fan of the character in the first episode, but she barely appears in this episode and when she does, it feels awkward. Chaplin’s expressive face excels in those scenes where she barely speaks a word, but all the other times she shows up it feels like padding.

While Zilpha’s scene with Delaney has some crackling dialogue between the two, it comes off as a repetition of something we already knew. Theirs is a forbidden affair, we get it. And her sniveling husband’s empty threats make his possible role in the senior Delaney’s death less than believable. I’m hoping these characters improve.

At A Knife’s Edge

The episode ends with Delaney barely surviving an assassin’s attack. It’s cool to see that our gruff hero has believable obstacles to his plan. No plan is full proof and it never feels contrived. While the show is moving at a brisk pace, there is still the right amount of mystery surrounding his end game.

I just wish that future episodes don’t pad the running time needlessly explaining the importance behind its best scenes…

That’s my job, dammit!

SCORE: 7.5 OUT OF 10