After last week’s violent episode of Taboo, where Tom Hardy’s James Delaney prowled the streets and unleashed a glimpse of those rumours in one shocking scene, episode 3 came across as somewhat tamer. Yes, we had to look at a wound being stitched up in a high definition zoom, and witnessed a cadaver full of shellfish first hand, but after his stabbing last week, Delaney generally caused trouble in a far less violent way – namely by writing letters and signing wills.
When discussing this show with others, the main word that I always seem to come back to to describe it is ‘pulp’. No, nothing to do with Jarvis Cocker, but rather in the context of the magazines that emerged during the late 1800s, following on from the Victorian ‘penny dreadfuls’. Pulp magazines often contained a lot of horror and thriller tales, short and shallow but good for entertainment value. That’s what I find Taboo to be, a piece of pure pulp fiction. Don’t expect anything too deep, we’re here for gore, plain drama and simple dialogue.
I should clarify that that isn’t necessarily a fault. However, it is a prerequisite for those ready to enjoy this series, as those looking for something of more substance may find themselves put off by its bluntness. Yet if you’re up for the fun challenge, then this continues to make for some fun Saturday entertainment. Just don’t try to eat your dinner at the same time.
This week showed off more of the talents of a generally impressive cast. Mark Gatiss, disguised rather well under a lot of prosthetics, made another brief appearance as the repugnant Prince Regent. Jessie Buckley, who was brilliant in the BBC’s War and Peace, takes on a very different role in the brash, but secretly vulnerable actress who appears to have married her way to the Delaney spoils. They’re all flanked by a lot of BBC favourites, although David Hayman as the increasingly despondent manservant Brace stands out. It takes quite a man to stand up against a Tom Hardy character when the crazy eyes are on, and he does it with a brilliant mix of frustration and immovable devotion.
The supernatural aspect of the show was also ramped up this episode, to its benefit. It certainly adds something different to a show that could simply be rooted in the horrendous side of humanity, instead incorporating a chill that haunts even the master of the house. The mystical elements aren’t just deployed in brief flashes either, but in careful moments that slightly push normal suspensions of disbelief. For example, when Delaney presses a blackened finger to Brace’s forehead in a threat, he leaves behind a bright orange stain that has come from nowhere, yet mimics the tattoo that holds the secret to his history.
There are lots of other plot strands to follow – the twisted relationship between Delaney and his half-sister culminated in a graphic conversation, as Zilpha’s husband sought a verbal revenge on his rival. Jonathan Pryce as the East India Trading Company chairman continues to swear like a trooper and plan evil plots whilst describing his every intention, the classic style of course. What’s interesting is seeing how Delaney continues to negotiate them all, since although he seems to do little, every action is a clue to what’s behind those demented eyes.
Taboo is simple entertainment, but a little pulp fiction on a Saturday night isn’t a bad way to spend an evening. In fact, it’s ideal.