The second episode of Taboo (FX, Tuesdays, 10/9C) finds James Delaney setting out to make his plans a reality. Suggestions made in the series premiere are affirmed and dangers encountered. The unfolding of events continues at its measured pace, drawing us in with its details and atmosphere.
The first scene of this week’s episode confirms that Sir Stuart Strange of the East India Company has ordered Delaney’s execution. Not only that, but there’s a time limit and the executioner’s employment hangs in the balance. So, stakes raised!
As for Delaney (Tom Hardy), he’s returned to the London 10 mile marker with a shovel and, this time, he finds what has long been buried. He’s also putting to use knowledge gained in the premiere to make a little change in housekeeping, as regards what will be drunk and from where – a tiny detail, but one that reinforces our impressions of his ability to learn and adapt.
An auction sheds further light on Delaney’s plans – and a company name. An official of the East India Company attends and is quick to bring his knowledge back to Strange (Jonathan Pryce) – who is a bit unnerved not by the auction so much as the knowledge Delaney had of negotiations concerning the Canada/U.S. border and the importance of Nootka Sound. Well, that and his unexpected wealth…
While Strange is losing his temper, though, Delaney is continuing to make plans – enlisting allies who can add to his knowledge and watch his back.
We also meet the British Prince Regent (Mark Gatiss), who has a sore toe (of which much is made) and dislikes the colors of the British and American ships shown on a map depicting a problematic blockade. His private secretary, Solomon Coop (Jason Watkins), goes about his job in spite of the Prince Regent’s bellicose weirdness, sorting the wheat from the chaff of his conversations (and also providing some subtler humor to the PR’s over the top panto).
Delaney also makes a new acquaintance – a thirteen-year old girl named Winter (Ruby-May Martinwood) who claims she wants to save Delaney’s life; he also meets a Doctor Dumbarton (Michael Kelly) who has a unique perspective, and a secret from his and Zilpha’s (Oona Chaplin) past is confirmed. And then there’s the man with the silver tooth – and an actress (Jessie Buckley) with an agenda that might not be in tune with Delaney’s…
Episode two concludes with a cliffhanger that is the most action-packed sequence of the series so far.
Written by Steven Knight and directed by Kristoffer Nyholm, episode two continues its methodical setting out of Delaney’s journey and the obstacles (living and dead) that are set against him.
Delaney, who swore he was going to do foolish things in the series premiere, seems less and less foolish as Taboo deepens its range, scope and mood. From his minor change in housekeeping to his acquisition of allies, Delaney seems prudent – but not overly so.
Again we see his visions/memories (?) and that subtle undercurrent of magic builds.
Right now there is nothing even remotely like Taboo on television. It sits in a unique niche that falls somewhere between Dickensian character study, Penny Dreadful mood and opulent BBC period piece.
It is an intelligently constructed show with characters that have layers that remain to be uncovered; a protagonist who seems the very personification of danger, and an almost unmatched villain – whose corruption unfurls over what is the world’s first multinational corporation.
Its world is highly detailed – as befits a series with characters as complex and real as Delaney – and presented in a manner that explores these details with the avid curiosity of a natural investigator.
Episode two deepens every previously met character and introduces intriguing new ones while simultaneously building the nuances of its world.
After only two episodes, Taboo has become must-see TV.
Final Grade: A+