Taboo Episode 1.1 “Shovels and Keys”
Written by Steven Knight
Directed by Kristoffer Nyholm
Starring Tom Hardy, Oona Chaplin, David Hayman, Michael Kelly, Jonathan Pryce, Jefferson Hall, Franka Potente, David Hayman FX
Air date: January 10, 2017
â€œForgive me father, for I have indeed sinned.â€
FX is known to push the boundaries on cable television. This is the channel of such provocative hits as American Horror Story, Sons of Anarchy, The People vs. OJ Simpson, and Itâ€™s Always Sunny of Philadelphia. When I first saw the previews for Taboo that aired during AHS Season 6, I was immediately hooked. I mean, Oscar-nominee Tom Hardy starring in a series involving indigenous lands and customsâ€¦ Iâ€™m in.
The show opens in 1814, London. England is at war with the U.S. and in pursuit of land and trade routes that will continue their path towards global empire. Into this walks James Keziah Delaney (Tom Hardy), a man long thought dead, whose appearance at his fatherâ€™s funeral draws audible gasps from his half-sister Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) and looks of consternation and disgust from everyone else. Their father was long mad, the only one it appears who still thought his son alive. So much so that he bequeathed him in his will the small piece of strategic and contentious land, Nootka Sound, that lies between British controlled Canada and the U.S. in what we decipher is western Canada. This is described by his fatherâ€™s lawyer as follows: â€œIf America was a pig facing England, this is the pigâ€™s asshole; nothing but rocks and Indians.â€ Delaneyâ€™s response: â€œBut those are my rocks.â€
Tom Hardy is just fantastic here. His swagger and low English drawl give an aura of mystery to his character, which is a character already draped in mystery. Delaney was gone a decade, rumors of him living in Africa amongst savages, him drowning at sea. He speaks of knowing the dead, maybe from personal experience. The only person remotely happy to see his return is his fatherâ€™s butler Brace (David Hayman). Over brandy they discuss his father and the land in the New World his father bought from Indians for gunpowder. Somehow Delaney knows family secrets Brace thought only he was informed of; like his mother was purchased with the land, and was a member of the native tribe. This ties in the hallucinogenic visions we get throughout the episode.
Delaneyâ€™s re-emergence sends shockwaves throughout. There is obviously some secret Game of Thrones Lannister-esque backstory between him and his sister, drawing the ire of her husband Thorne Geary (Jefferson Hall). His fatherâ€™s shipping company office was converted to a brothel by Helga (Franka Potente) and he threatens her to evacuate the vermin before promising to collect the testicles of everyone inside. The ones least happy to see Delaney return are the executives of the British East India Company, led by the High Sparrow himself, Jonathan Pryce playing Sir Stuart Strange, a former teacher of Delaneyâ€™s. He and his associates revel in the Delaneyâ€™s perceived madness, before appealing to him to sell the land back to them. Letâ€™s just say their attempts at negotiations fall flat.
This is a passion project for Hardy, who created the series along with his father Chips Hardy and writer Steven Knight. You can tell they are immersed in the history here and feel personally attachment to the project. The dialogue is vicious and full of sharp threats, while Hardyâ€™s performance toes the line between fascinating and creepy perfectly. As a history teacher in my daily life, I was hooked into the story right away, and the characters and writing amplified this. The previews for upcoming episodes show that we will delve much deeper into the backstory of Delaney and his adventures during his ten year absence, as well as the budding rivalry between his familyâ€™s legacy and that of the British East India Company. For a premiere episode, this was everything it needed to be. We got the exposition without it feeling forced and we understand the motivations of all the principal characters. I canâ€™t wait to we get into more, dare I say, taboo matters.
Taboo returns next Tuesday night at 10:00 on FX.
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Preview Taboo. FXâ€™s new series from Tom Hardy, Ridley Scott, and Steven Knight premieres Tuesday, 1/10.