This whole thing is insane!
Not my words, the words of Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce). He’s not wrong y’know. In fact he seems to be the only man to have finally cottoned on to the madness of Taboo, just as it’s too late.
It’s actually quite refreshing for someone on the other side of the TV screen to admit that this whole thing makes no sense, because even after a full eight episodes I still don’t know what the whole endeavour was about, beyond a reason to put Tom Hardy on out screens. Not that you need a reason. But it would’ve been nice if there’d been some coherency attached.
Seems I’m not the only one. In a Twitter poll I conducted (I know right? Super scientific), I asked if anyone knew what Taboo was actually about. Of the 50 people that took part, 52% chose ‘Literally no idea’. 20% chose ‘Land and gunpowder’, and in my favourite outcome, 22% picked ‘Tom Hardy in a weird hat’. God I love democracy.
I’ve never known a show like it. No one knows what’s going on, or why, but they keep tuning in and loving it, and honestly, you can’t blame them. It’s a show of unique vision and intoxicating insanity. It has a top-flight cast and, instead of doing your bog-standard period drama, it decides to try a high-wire act that takes an almost holistic view towards plot.
It was something to do with gunpowder, certainly, but even by the time the credits roll the show is still determined to keep you wrong-footed and guessing. And then it has the bare-ass cheek to also expect that you’ll be so delighted at being wrong footed and guessing that you’ll come back for a second series (more on that later).
James Delaney may be locked up in the Tower of London, but he’s a man with a plan. A bad man with a good plan. He keeps telling people that he did ungodly things in Africa, but never elaborating. I can’t tell whether it’s immaculate dramatic shorthand or just plain lazy storytelling. Of the truly terrible things you can do, I’m guessing he dabbled in some mild cannibalism and took a covert midnight dump in the village well. The monster.
He’s been playing the Crown and the East India Company off against each other, and now all that work has come to fruition from within his cell. Delaney tells Strange he will tell his side of the Cornwallis sinking to Chichester, effectively dooming Strange, unless he gets him a ship.
In fact, Delaney’s been far craftier and sharper than the show’s opaque plot would suggest, as proven by his textbook jail breakout plan and everything he does once he’s been sprung. Free from chokey, he quickly sets about tying up all the loose ends he’s been growling at for the past seven episodes.
That includes the killing of Dr. Dumbarton, as Delaney drowns him in his own dye and leaves him comically blue in the face. Ha-ha-haaa! That’s Taboo to a tee: making you laugh at a corpse, chuckling away at the cognitive dissonance of it all. And who doesn’t love a spot of cognitive dissonance with their curry on a Saturday night? I know I do! Especially if there’s popadoms.
Loose ends tied up, Sir Stuart Strange blown up, and the Prince Regent red up, Delaney and his motley band of ‘pilgrims’ and gunpowder get ready to set sail to America. But the Crown has other ideas and sends soldiers after them. Cue a brutal and unflinchingly shot battle at the docks. All rifles and stabbings – like Les Mis but with ‘One Day More’ replaced with screams and people shouting ‘Aaargh, my fucking chest!’ as they get bayoneted. An excellent action piece.
Helga’s shot dead, Lorna is winged in the shoulder, and Mr Cholmondely is blown up but manages to survive it and huff nitrous another day…possibly. I guess it all depends on if Tom Hollander wants to put pen to contract for another series. I hope he does, his marvellously deranged chemist has been such a strong part of a marvellously deranged show.
Delaney and the more famous names in the cast manage to set sail and escape. Heading for America, right? No! Delaney orders the ship to take a course to The Azores to see Colonnade. In other words, ‘Set sail for series 2!’. It’s not so much a cliffhanger as a continuation of the frustration of not knowing what the hell is going on. Except now you’ll have to wait a year and a half to continue the confusion.
That’s if it does come back (based on its popularity it likely will). Imagine if it doesn’t. It’ll all have been like a weird dream, one of those ones that stays with you long after you’ve finished your cornflakes. One of those dreams you want to tell a mate about but when you do they stare at you blankly.
I don’t know if I can give Taboo a star rating this week. I love it, but I barely understand it. I like to talk about it, but I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m one of the 52%. The only thing I can be certain of is that we’ve never seen anything like Taboo. It’s been an entirely different kind of viewing experience, and that kind of thing should always be encouraged. Oh what the hell, four stars.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go lie down. It’s been a long eight weeks.
Aired at 9.15pm on Saturday 27 February 2017 on BBC One.
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