Let’s talk about Taboo


Hello! I have finished watching the last episode of one of the latest TV shows on HBO – Taboo, for like the third time. I was attracted to it from the first photo I saw about it – black and white, raven feathers in the background! It seemed so dark and even gothic I was instantly interested and watched trailer. It’s unlike most of the TV shows I usually watch and it really appealed to me with the dark vibe. It’s a drama series in eight parts, set in 1814. The story follows James Delaney who returns to England right on time to catch his fathers funeral. The fact he was believed dead and returnes alive starts a stir in the society and drama starts to follow him.

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Basically all the story resolves around James Delaney. This may be a good thing or a bad thing, depends on what you expect from the show.  The story begins with James coming back home for a funeral and after it gaining everything his father has left him, which was not much really, apart from one piece of land called Nootka Sound.  The piece of land is in dispute between Great Britain and United States, who are at war battling to gain as much land and influence as possible. Even though Delaney is a British citizen, he is the owner and there was a special treaty signed years ago, therefore the crown can not get to the land directly. There is also East India Company, of course, interested in making a deal with his half sister and buying that piece of land from her, when her brother comes back and ruins their plans. In the second episode we already get to see Delaney trying to reclaim his inheritance, and the reading of the will finally happens, where it shows that half of everything rightfully belongs, wait for it, not his sister, but his wife! A wife that no one even knew about that goes by the name of Lorna Bow. Later she becomes an important character and helps develop the story around James. At this point the deals under the table and backstabbing is already fully blown and ongoing. East India Company try to get rid of Delaney after they see they can not buy the land from him, his sister and her husband get nothing and her husband is a real douche about basically everything. Miss Bow tries to meddle without even knowing what she is getting herself into and James is working on making contact with the Americans and tries to protect himself with the biggest ace he has, Nootka Sound. Why is this piece of land so important? Well, the Crown wants it because that way they could push back at the United States and also the way of trade to China would be opened for them. East India Company is only interested in the trade and wants to get to China as soon as possible but they do not dare to go through Boston, so the strategic position of Nootka is perfect chance for them. United States would also benefit greatly if the land belonged to them, they could close of the trade for the Crown and East India, also push back at the Crown and claim independance.

Taboo, review, Sapphire's Lair blog 1

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By the end of episode three Delaney already needs to protect himself from so many different sides, especially East India Company and the Crown that he writes a will which states that at the moment of his death everything he has goes to United States government. Because of this both sides are forced to protect his life from the Americans or they will loose the advantage of getting to Nootka Sound first. Lorna Bow also claims her half of the share and also her half of Nootka Sound. Her life is just as much in danger as is his, but she is well too stupid or too naive to see that. To me it seemed that they intentionally presented her like she is a bit dense, later her character develops and she ends up being a lot smarter and active, actually helping him and not just standing helplessly in the way. I liked that James predicted what could happen to her if she acted stupidly and she learned the hard way, because that made her a good asset later on. In a way she was also encouraged by Delaney when she was arrested by the Crown, as he assured her he will come for her and help her out. This was in his best interest in regards to protecting Nootka Sound and I think that at some point he also  actually wanted to help her, as she appeared to be a lot more than her smug first impression. Episode four and five are full of intense moments! In order to get protection from the United States Delaney must deliver the only thing they actually need, gunpowder. As it is not easy to come by and no one will sell him anything, as this is strictly a thing of the Crown he sees his only option in making his own. Therefore he plans a very dangerous theft and tries to steal refined saltpetre from Company warehouse. From this point on everything revolves around trying to stay alive, get the gunpowder ready, hide it from the Crown and not get arrested for stealing and finally deliver the gunpowder to the Americans.

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I have not adressed the relationship between James and his  half sister, Zilpha. It appears they were having some sort of sexual relationship before he left London and the unfinished business just keeps coming up at every chance they meet, a planned meeting or not. In the mean time she got married to Thorne, and I must say I really pity her. Her husband is greedy and acts like the biggest dumbass ever. Anyway, back to James and Zilpha. They have the same father, making their relationship incestuous. Oh man, I can’t believe this but lately in every show I watch, anime, movie, tv show, it seems there must be that one guy in love with his sister and having inappropriate relationship with  her. Is this some kind of new trend or something? Anyway, such relationships never end well, and this is the case here as well.  After a sick turn in her relationship with her husband, torturing, rape, beating, exorcism of some sort, I think she went a bit insane, she finally kills him. This was so obvious to me that she will do that, like from the moment James gets back and they show how her husband acts all jealous, angry and frustrated and later when he finds out that the rumours are true and they were intimately involved, he just loses it. Predictable, but I have not counted it as a bad thing or something that it is out of place in the show. The last episode however, when she takes her own life though, well that was just what the fuck?? Pointless much? It’s not like I wasn’t expecting something like this and in a way she set James free, but not really (wait until I get to the voodoo part), still her death was meaningless. It didn’t change what James already set in motion and had to go through with it, she didn’t really get away from James (wait for the voodoo part) and I never felt like she killed herself because she felt bad for murdering her husband. I think she just realised that even without her husband she can not change the fact she is trapped in that world and what she wants will forever feel tempting and wrong at the same time. In her goodbye letter to James she says something like this as well, that she realised she will be free only in death. Haha, not really, jokes on you,just wait for the ghosts part (and second season probably as well)!

Taboo - Generic
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Finally, the voodoo part! I though I will have something more to say here, but I don’t actually know what is going on. The mystic powers he shows attracted me from the first episode, one of the main reasons why I wanted to watch Taboo, but I feel like they haven’t used the potential of this as much as they could. James is shown as someone with weird voodoo powers, talking to the dead, seeing visions and talking in some foreign language, like chanting something. Ok, I liked the representation of this, but I would love some more explanation. How did he get the powers, what do they mean, what can he actually do with them, besides see his dead mother and later his half sister? We get a bit of explanation how he knows things about his dead mother Salish, how he talked to his father even though he was far away. There is also a part where his servant/friend/accomplice explains to him why they thought his mother was mad and what happened to her, so I understood it like she was the same as him, had the same abilities. Somehow that connected her to her son after she died? Though if I remember correctly, in the years he was away from London, James mentions he learned to control this power of his, so he knows what he is doing but never explains more. I expect more of this voodoo in the next season!

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From talking to others and checking comments on the show online, I feel like the show generally wowed the targeted audiances. I must say the first two episodes didn’t impress me much, they were interesting and I liked most the vibe and design of everything. Feels and looks dirty, unwashed, grey… like life in general, right?  When the slow burn suspense starts it really got me sucked in and I couldn’t stop watching. It feels mysterious and dark, so different from the tv shows I have been watching in the last, lets say half a year, and this was also one of the major reasons why I really liked it. I have never been a fan of Tom Hardy and I am not swooning over him now (though he does not look that bad :P), but his acting here was really good and this role was really perfectly fitted for him. The show feels like it was strongly influenced by Dickens and gangster movies, still I like the historical references in it. I think I should point out that East India Company may be presented a bit inaccurately. Some historians agree that it was a very strong organisation, a God almighty for years,  and it was contributing to the new society (at least something positive), but at the same time it was the worst and held everything under them, the representation of how they held and kept their monopoly is portrayed almost realistically. In a way, we don’t have it much different now, if you think their actions are wrong and inhuman, well look around and tell me the free new world we live in now is any better?

Taboo, review, Sapphire's Lair blog 2

I loved the scenery, sometimes the sunsets and the look on the London buildings in the rain were just beautiful. In a world where everyone is corrupt and flawed, there were moments of pure beauty and I appreciated them very much. For me this is very important in such shows, because it just adds that little something that makes me love the show or not. Also the soundtrack felt in step with what was going on so well, it helped express more than just the looks that went between the characters. I think it also built the suspense some more as well and round up the whole show. I hope they continue in the same (or better) way for the next season as well. The last episode however felt rushed. There was a lot of action, which was great and looked amazing, but in terms of the storytelling it didn’t do much. I am not saying it’s a bad episode, just that they could add some more context. I admit I am happy the ending didn’t quite go as planned, not everyone survives and some get seriously hurt, which makes it a lot more credible and stays in track with the whole atmospehere of the show. I am really interested to see where they will go with the next season!

Final verdict – is this show good, ok, great, decent, bad, sloppy, ….? I liked a lot of aspects of the show, I think it is worth the time. Some things bothered me and I wish they would have done them differently, but all in all, I liked it. It’s very, very good! If you have seen it as well I would  love if you would leave me a comment and we can chat about it some more!

Thanks for reading!

*Photos have been credited or are screenshots. I do not own them or the rights to them.

Love, Sapphire


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