Taboo (FX, Tuesday, 10/9C) reaches its season finale in grand style as the chess game between the East India Company’s Sir Stuart Strange and James Keziah Delaney plays out to its exceedingly appropriate conclusion.
Episode Eight opens with Delaney’s sister, Zilpha (Oona Chaplin), taking a most unexpected trip before we return to Delaney’s (Tom Hardy) cell in the Tower – where he is having a conversation with Sir Stuart (Jonathan Pryce).
Meanwhile, Atticus (Stephen Graham), Mr. Cholomdelay (Tom Hollander) and Lorna Bow (Jessie Buckley) are receiving and acting upon instructions relayed to them through young Robert (Louis Ashbourne Serkis).
We learn what use Delaney has for Sir Stuart; Helga (Franke Potente) learns the truth of Winter’s death; Brace (David Hayman) receives a special gift; Godfrey (Edward Hogg) and Countess Musgrove (Marina Hinds) come through.
The Prince Regent (Mark Gatiss) and Solomon Coop (Jason Watkins) are made furious and George Chichester (Lucian Msamati) visits Delaney’s home, again.
There are few specific details that can be revealed that would escape being spoilery, so I’ll just say that all the layers and clues leading up to the conclusion of Episode Eight have their payoffs.
Writer Steven Knight and director Anders Engström masterfully juggle all the goings on – from the Tower to the East India Company, from the docks of London to the Delaney household – with the same deliberate intrigue that has built up over the previous seven episodes – to arrive at the season’s final destination (and while it might be where we thought it could be, the path taken is convoluted and complex).
Delaney and Sir Stuart are worthy adversaries – each smart and careful when it matters; willing to take risks when necessary and always thinking several moves ahead. As things have played out over the course of the season, it has gotten harder and harder to tell which of the two men is the real savage. This episode answers that question with extreme emphasis.
Hardy and Pryce are worth the price of admission here, but the members of each side also maintin a high level of performance. Buckley, in particular, has some great moments – the best of which is when she explains to the Countess who, exactly, she is.
Gatiss, as usual, plays the Prince Regent sufficiently over the top that we can the beginnings of the fall of the British Empire clearly. Watkins takes the long-suffering Coop to new levels of exasperation (that must be held firmly in check in the presence of his employer).
Those who pay attention to these things will recognize an early scene as being the final one from the opening credits to be played out in the story – a key moment that causes Delaney no little doubt and consternation.
Then there are the moments of ‘things that go bang and things that confuse’ – just because so much that been set up is paid off, it doesn’t mean that things go smoothly. Every forward step is bought with effort – mental and physical.
By the closing credits, though, it all works out to a specific end that sets up a potential season two with all kinds of possibilities. It could also work as a series finale if ratings were insufficient for renewal. It’s a masterful balancing act that makes one grateful for the episodes we’ve gotten, and hopeful that there’s more to be seen.
Final Grade: A+