Taboo is a period piece drama with a possible supernatural twist. "“There’s a certain amount of serendipity and slightly odd spiritual coincidence that’s going on [in “Taboo”],” Hardy said of his new series. “There’s a hint toward the supernatural, but there is none. There are certain concepts of mystical negro territories, and the concern of the abolitionists. […] His ability to instinctively smell and sense things that are going on is from having his third eye opened at a very early age.”
It's not that Taboo is overtly weird, but there is something in the show that bubbles away under the surface of the series that is incredibly disquieting. While it seems like there is more happening, there is also the possibility that the show isn't high concept at all, but rather that under all the grime is just even more grime.
As the show commences, Tom Hardy's lead character James Delaney goes to visit the body of his recently deceased father. The visit is not to give respect to the dead - this was not a good relationship. But, in parting words to his fathers corpse, lain upon a table for viewing, James tells his father: "Forgive me father, for I have indeed sinned"
James Delaney's father seemingly had precious few friends. If any. His lawyer, Thoyt, advises James that there was "Not a single tear from anyone at the gravesite." Most people, it seems, are happy to hear he's dead.
It's an interesting dynamic that the show is playing with, starting the series following the death of the much unloved father, given that the series was created in partnership by Tom Hardy and his own father Chips Hardy.
It's one hell of a character that Hardy has crafted for himself to play. Returning to London at age 27, James Keziah Delaney has been abroad, living in Africa where he has reportedly made quite a considerable fortune for himself. Delaney had been gone for so long that it was assumed by everyone that he was dead. And considering how he lived his life, that seems a safe assumption.
At age 11, Delaney was made a cadet at the East India Company military seminary. His military report is deemed exceptional, with Delaney showing considerable skill with the musket, shipcraft, and in leadership. Two years later, he went off the rails - snapping the necks of officers and setting ablaze a Navy boat in an experiment with oil and mashed potatoes while drunk. We're told that he once fought a bear and was also responsible for starting a rebellion against the cooks for bad custard. Soon after, he took himself off to Africa, never to be seen since. Until now.
The will left behind by Delaney's father left him everything, including some property at Nootka Sound. As Delaney explains, Nootka was James' mothers tribe. His father had bought some land and a wife for the price of gunpowder. The property at Nootka Sound plays heavily into the plot of the series and is, in fact, actually a real place. An inlet off the West Coast of Vancouver Island, It was first “discovered” by the Spanish in 1774, with James Cook giving it the name Nootka.
As the series goes on, expect to learn a lot more about the elder Delaney's actions at Nootka Sound and the repercussions they have for James. His father's legacy proves to be a poisoned chalice, with enemies now waiting for James at every turn.
Season one of Taboo is streaming now at SBS On Demand: