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Monday, March 20, 2017

Taboo? I Probably Should Feel Ashamed But I Only Feel Sleepy #Taboo #FX #Post-mortem

Taboo? I Probably Should Feel Ashamed But I Only Feel Sleepy #Taboo #FX #Post-mortem 

All Pictures courtesy of BBC and FX

For the love of all that is right, why? Why? Why, Tom Hardy, did you choose this project of all the good projects out there? Sorry, I'm jumping ahead of myself here. It's mid-season and another mid-season show has just ended its limited run. You know what that means: a snarky and snide review/recap of the entire season. Yaaayyy! What of Taboo? Is it a show you need to go online or to your cable box on-demand menu, and binge-watch, or does Taboo not even reach the highest of tawdry, let alone dip a toe into the pool of a salacious scandal? Let's find out together—well, not together. I already know and you're reading it, so... You know what, you get how this works. Let's go!!

FX's Taboo stars Tom Hardy as James Delaney, a prodigal son returned to Britain to roam the filthy streets of London in 1814. He returns under inauspicious circumstances as he has come home to honor the death of his father. Thought dead himself—killed in a sea voyage or made into barbaric animal of sorts—the shock of his return is felt throughout most of the city as it has far-reaching implications. Son to a wealthy man, Father Delaney died still in the ownership of one of London's premiere shipping companies. The company goes everywhere from the recently revolutionized American states to east India to Africa (we all know what they're doing on that continent). At first assumption, the company would go to his half-sister Zilpha Geary played by Oona Chaplin (yes, she is the granddaughter of Charlie). Of course, in those days most inheritances still went to men, so the company would technically go to Zilpha's posh-whipped husband Thorne Geary (I know posh didn't really exist back then, but follow me here). That is until James returns to exact his Monte Cristo-ian revenge upon those he felt wronged both him, his father and his “wildling” mother. Oops, did I say wildling. Sorry, that's Game of Thrones, the show that Taboo tries to be. Let's continue, shall we.

There is also Sir Stuart Strange played by the always committed Johnathon Pryce (funny, he actually played the high priest/prophet guy on Game of Thrones), who heads up the East Indian Company, a rival shipping company (we're talking about THE premier shipping company of Britain at the time; yes, they're real) that had hoped to buy out and/or destroy the Delaney company outright. With Thorne Geary already in their back pocket, this would've been very easy to do, until James returned. And, uh... that's about it.

Look, as far as plot, it is very simple: man returns to get some revenge. After that, there isn't a whole lot of intrigue. Yes, there are plenty of pseudo-side stories that, for me, never got interesting but there's so little plot to me that actually connects that it starts to make you wonder why this was so long. Every episode of the eight episode series is an hour and a half long, which, frankly, drags the story out to excruciating lengths, but if that's what you have to do in order to get it on TV...

So, to the side stories. The first is that his father had a mistress/supposed wife he met up in the far country up north... or south, I can't remember. They got married in secret and she only shows up after a few episodes to try to stake claim to the Delaney home and business, which is actually in debt. But if you're looking for some kind of Avatar/Braveheart fight between the two of them on who owns what, look elsewhere. Upon learning that she wants the property and the business, James sorta shrugs it off and says we'll discuss it when the time is right. Does he try to throw her in a dark, dark wood? Nope. Instead, she says I want the house and he invites her to stay in the house with him. What? Welp, OK. He figures he can protect her from, and might need her as ally against Sir Strange, but even her “helping hand” doesn't materialize to anything substantial until the final two episodes where she is both tortured a little and half-helps clear his name.

Speaking of the last two episodes—three, really—another subplot forms in which this scholarly black gentleman pops up and starts conducting an investigation into the sinking of an East Indian Company ship. The ship was, at the time of its sinking, carrying a cargo of slaves, though it was not supposed to be, and had briefly changed its name in order to take the illegal shipment. He wants to know who ordered the slaves on the ship and why the vessels sank the way it did. What was most interesting, however, is that Delaney was on the ship—one of the reasons why he was presumed dead. But even though they have this mystery/investigation as a plot device, they never quite do anything with it. The black guy asks a few white men some questions, they give him that look of “dude, really? Come on. You black in the 1800s,” and he smirks back like, “but I'm also educated and have never been a slave,” and that's about it there, too.
Americans With Guns

Then we have the side plot about the Americans, which, frankly, I didn't fully understand. So, there's some American spies who want to disrupt Britain's business and its continual spread as an empire, and I guess they're fighting for some land in America before the Brits get it, but even with that, eh! Knowing my history, both the revolutionary war and the war of 1812 or Mr. Madison's war had taken place and America had won both. So why they are trying to mess with Britain in any way is bizarre to me. More over, it was the French that we bought the Louisiana territory from, not the Brits, so... I don't know. I'd have to brush up on my history again, but, to me, it's similar to after WWII when America and Britain shifted to look at Russia, instead of Germany. We had just beat them in two wars, why keep looking at them? Same here, America beat Britain twice. Why look at them again? Even more to the point, the East Indian shipping company was said to be the one with spies in reality, almost like a pre-CIA or MI6. Wouldn't it, then, make more since for them to be spying on the Americans... in America? I don't know.


Finally, the one side-plot that I'm sure many people first thought of when reading the word Taboo, Delaney wants to sleep with his sister again, as they had quite the affair before he left. But even that is tame by comparisons of other shows we've seen as of late. Game of Thrones used the plot device in the most vicious and memorable way. Even Cruel Intentions had its twisted incestual plot device always lurking over the characters actions. Here, however, I could take it or leave. It felt inconsequential and, to me, the show proved exactly that when, on the finale, his sister kills herself after they had screwed like mad dogs on episode six or seven. Even the male-rams-butting-heads that Delaney should've been with her husband Thorne came to a soupy climax, the flavor of violence and hatred muddled as Delaney made another friend of the man. He spared him in a pistol duel after the East Indian Company set Thorne up to fail by giving him a gun with no bullets. It was like watching those new Steven Seagull movies where, instead of kicking ass, he settles things reasonably, and you're like, “What? Dude, Under Siege that son of a gun! At least Under Siege 2 him! Gah!” SMH.

And then, if that's not the worst of it, his sister kills the man so she can go and sleep with her brother with impunity. And the way she is so giddy about having killed her husband and how subdued Delaney is, you think, “Wait, we might be in for some kind of naughty Fifty Shades of Grey here. She looks like she wants to be punished. Finally, I feel ashamed watching a show called Taboo.” Nope! You get it not! In fact, after one and a half episodes (which, was maybe a week in show time) Delaney casts his sister's affections aside in some half-noble belief that she should have a better life than he will give her at the moment, and how he's destined to die and he needs to keep with his pursuit of villainy, and yadda yadda yadda. And because she can't have anymore brother-meat (ooo, that's nasty!), she hurls herself off a bridge while her voice-over waxes poetic about how much she loved him and how she hopes to meet him in the afterlife. Again, she resisted him with a lover's longing in her eyes for at least the first three episodes before hopping on his lap and tempting him with one of those, “This is what you want? Well, you'll never get it,” that all film/TV vixens do to the men right before giving up the drawers. Here, it only turned into an eye-rolling “come on” moment because of the characters' lack of real power or character outside of the two men in her life.

Even considering her death under the microscope of Delaney's revenge plot, it makes little sense. I know that I never got the notion that he wanted anything other than to sleep with his sister and make her his again, so any revenge exacted upon her comes as a hollow twist: there to try to keep your interest but serving no meaningfulness to the plot before or after.

Sad to say but for me, the last episode came in somewhat of a blur, and I hardly remembered it. I do know that, after being captured, imprisoned and questioned about what he knew about something dealing with the Americans, Delaney said virtually nothing. The whole sinking of the slave ship thing got resolved because somehow Father Delaney and Sir Strange had given orders to put the slaves on the ship and did some stuff that inevitably led to its sinking, leading the black guy to go to Delaney's house, up to his study, see a letter and give that all-too-familiar magical negro nod when the main white character has done something good. He even says, “Justice!” And we're all like, “Oh! That's what this whole thing was about: Justice! Of course. I totally get it now.” There's also a huge set-piece shootout with explosions and plenty of deaths down at the harbor, but even that I couldn't quite figure out because, again, it had something to do with the historically confusing American plot. So, some redcoats started shooting at the undercover Americans that tried to undo their business; Delaney, who is on the American's side has ordered this chemist (I'm actually fascinated by him because I think he'd make a great 19th century Walter White) to make bombs and explosive powder which he does; Delaney and his men use it to escape. But along the way a few people die including a male cross-dresser that had been helping Delaney, and some other people. Delaney, along with his father's secret wife (you just knew they were going to sleep with each other and I can't remember them doing such), and a brothel madam all escape on one of his ships with full crew on board.

From there, you have what is common in shows and films like this, a double-ending, in which two poignant moments follow one after the other, either one an acceptable ending on its own. Bare with me for I can't remember which comes first but I think it is the Delaney one. Delaney is seen on the ship talking to what we can only assume will be his first mate who asks about the guns and the explosives and whatnot that was supposed to be for the Americans. Delaney tells him that they have to go somewhere that sounded Spanish to me, so I'm guessing somewhere either in South America, or, um... dang it, where else do they speak Spanish. Wait, it'll come to me... No, I can't think of it. He also tells him that—surprise, surprise—they are the Americans, and we see a grand old flag raised on the mast, replacing the British jack. Here, I guess the show is trying to make some salient point about how Delaney may have been an American the whole time and how he personified America ruining the British world empire, but I'm not quite sure if that point is adequately made. In any case, I don't think it has the impact the show wanted it to have. But we do get this amazing view of the sunset before them as they sail away. All this to set up future possible stories.

Our second ending is the simplicity of one final get-back where Sir Strange sits down in his office and his secretary brings him a letter/package of some sort. Naturally, he sits to read it, opens it up and BOOM! Yes, it was from Delaney and his chemist, and was a bomb. The end. Oddly, I rather enjoyed this quick end to the frail haunt that was Sir Strange, because, while he was good, he wasn't all-time evil or manipulative.

What's my grade? You really have to ask? I give this a C-, and that is only because I know how some people like the slow-build of things and I do think Tom Hardy was captivating every time we saw him on screen. Also, the show is a visual masterpiece in its 19th century grunge-bleakness. So, you definitely have something to look at. However, there were so many things that I didn't enjoy about the series that I couldn't overlook them all.

First, as said, the main plot is simple and should be easy to follow, and it is, however, unlike in some iterations of Count of Monte Cristo, this revenge plot meanders and fizzles rather than pops. Though he says his intent outright a few times, we never get a sense of the evil of the men who betrayed him. Yes, they technically killed his father. Yes, they hated his mother because she was different and was some kind of witch, supposedly, but we don't ever get a flashback scene of what exactly they did to her or what his father did to her. I say that knowing that the show delves (albeit briefly) into this sorcery and poetic imagery because Delaney is seen multiple times doing some kind of craft himself, communing with his deceased mother in the wild. Even his sister is shown at what can only be described as a 19th century exorcism, yet there is no scene where they show the horrors we are supposed to believe these men may or may not have committed, creating a lack of character connective tissue with the audience.

Speaking of, all of the characters were both muted and mooted, in my opinion. This is a show that relies very heavily on its visual pretenses, which is good for a visual medium. However, it does that, in many cases, to the detriment of the viewers if you ask me. There's more dead silence or people wailing than there is snappy, crisp, memorable dialogue. Truthfully, the only time you do remember some dialogue is when it comes just before some sex, like Delaney's demand that his sister take her dress off NOW, or when it comes at the end of a character's arc. Even worse, half of the show is whispered, something which I absolutely hate about period films. I don't understand why people in Victorian-era and down to 1099 AD must always whisper-mumble everything. Is everything a secret? Do people think we only just recently developed loud voices? Gah! It drives me mad.

As for them being mooted, no one makes a point to really stick out here, or do anything worth writing home about for that matter. Again, to compare it to Game of Thrones, everything the entire season inches closer and closer to a penultimate and ultimate episode that leaves you breathless and chatty. Here, most of what happens had me shrugging so often because the characters don't seem to develop in any way. There's no taunting of the pull between doing good and exacting revenge. Most of the scenes are anticlimactic because Delaney isn't even there when a great deal of the people die and he never has an evil laugh about it all or even a good “that was satisfying” smirk, either. Do something, man. Act unreasonable for just a second. For instance, when his sister admits she killed her husband so she could get some of that nasty brother-lovin' his immediate reaction is not to rip her clothes off right then and there like he wants. No, instead he goes to check on the body to make sure the man is dead, then makes plans to have the body removed. What? But... but... Whatever, dude! I would've even settled for him ripping all her clothes off, having her ready for him, and then him whispering something mean in her ear about how she can't have him, then leaving. Bwahahaha! That would have been deliciously sinister, not to mention would have set up that demanding encounter where they do have sex all the more rich. Instead, this fool acts far too reasonable, even politely suggesting that they shouldn't have each other now. Where's the backbone. He even viciously slices a guy to death during the day and can only muster a look of “well, that happened.” It's maddening.

Wearing a Hat, Talking to a Horse. Life Goals!
It's a series that runs too slow where it feels like nothing happens, though there is stuff happening, and where at least five full minutes of each episode is dedicated to watching Tom Hardy walking around 19th century London in a black coat and top hat. In fact, it should have been called Man in a Black Coat and Top Hat.

Should you be watching? If you weren't before, then I'll say you shouldn't now. Look, I am always apologetic for having certain opinions because I know how tough it is to be a creative in this industry, and I also know how so many good shows today don't get good until later seasons, but I can't for the life of me understand how this show is so highly rated on IMDb, nor how it has been renewed for a second season. The only reason I see for its renewal is that BBC also aired it in the UK and it must be a hit over there—maybe it's more tuned to British entertainment sensibilities—because a hit it was not over here. Again, I know that some TV shows take time to adjust and really get their rhythm and catch on, but at a cost of 10 million dollars (or it might have been pounds which is even more expensive) for the first season of eight episodes, I can't fathom making changes that will boost this show to the level of a West World or Thrones or even Mr. Robot. You can catch the full first season of Taboo on FX on Demand on your cable provider or online at FX or

What do you think? Have you heard about Taboo? If not, do you think you'll check it out now or stay away? If you have, what did you think about it? Am I being too tough on the show? Is it one of your new faves or does it deserve to be canceled? And what did you expect from a show with such a name? As always, let me know in the comments below.

Check out my 5-star comedy novel, Yep, I'm Totally Stalking My Ex-Boyfriend. #AhStalking
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Until next time, “You are a woman in need of a serious spanking. And I just so happen to have a strap for that. ”

P.S. Could they have fit a line like that in? Yes, of course. Did they? I mean, come on! I thought Taboo meant something people didn't discuss, something against regular standards and practices. If the show had focused on one thing, rather than a bunch, maybe it would've been something special. By the way, that line is actually from one of my books, A Negotiation of Sorrows due out winter 2018. I'll think of a better, more PG sign-off next time.
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