After an impressive and alarming season opener last week, Steven Knight and Sir Ridley Scott’s collaborative period drama with father and son duo Tom and Chips Hardy enjoys a more secure second hour of viewing. That isn’t to say this week’s episode of Taboo was dull or underwhelming; it just seemed to tread extremely similar water to the pilot, leaving any real sense of surprise and shock to the final frames.
Following a bitter dispute between James Keziah Delaney (Hardy) and the East India Trading Company, Jonathan Pryce’s Sir Stuart Strange has now given the order for his men to terminate the mysterious and ambiguous protagonist. Meanwhile Delaney – with the assistance of Stephen Graham’s hapless lunatic Atticus (somewhere between the Artful Dodger and Blackbeard; bald head bearing a distinctive compass tattoo…) – is on the prowl for a murderer, only identifiable by his signature silver tooth. Interestingly enough, the said killer is stalking his assailant, too. At the reading of his late father’s will, an event littered with angry townspeople who have been conned and underpaid, the swaggering, smart-talking Lorna Delaney (Jessie Buckley) arrives for her fair share.
Unbeknown to James and indeed the remainder of London, Horace’s wife now is a vital player in the battle for ownership of Nootka Sound. The East India Trading Company were unable to tempt James with a handsome fee for the land – situated between British and American-controlled rival territories – and are now calling for his head for such traitorous behaviour, but as the legal wife of the land’s primary holder, Lorna has a clear claim to the island: a claim that would become absolute in the instance of James’ passing.
A number of new characters besides Graham’s infinitely likeable antihero, and Buckley’s assured scene-stealer were on offer in this second episode; least of all Sherlock‘s Mark Gatiss, who delivers a wonderfully grotesque performance as Prince Regent – a plump, obnoxious, and downright pompous persona indeed. House of Cards‘ Michael Kelly also fleshes out the American imports (giving the fact that Taboo is a co-production between the BBC and FX) as medical professional and government spy Dumbarton. Similarly to the season premiere, the strongest work comes from Pryce’s insidious foe Strange who fends off against Delaney’s brut and heft with dark smarts, and spiteful orchestrations of power. It is a delirious and often side-swiping role from the great British actor, who is clearly loving to frolic in the filth.
Hardy too delivers excellent work this week, as we slowly being to underpin the horrors of his past, and see some of those “rumours” about his alternative existence in Africa come to fruition. During a heated dialogue exchange, his sister Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) asks James if he really “ate flesh” to which he ignores, nostrils flaring. But as we reach the arresting climatic moments – easily the best part of the episode – we see James strolling through the mist and murk of the late-night London streets, and it is clear he is being followed.
As paths cross, the attacker draws a switchblade and plummets it deep into Delaney’s gut, slicing and stabbing with brutal force. James fights back, engaging that hideous-looking scythe blade from his jacket and slamming a few blows, and it isn’t before he has his rival on the ground. Out of nowhere, James leans in and takes a gargantuan bite out of his victim’s throat, spitting the flesh and blood as he does so. Suddenly Delaney feels not only more real and unpredictable, but significantly more compromised. As he lay bleeding in the street, we witness the birth of the monster folklore has so frequently recited.
After two hours of Taboo, the show is continuing to intrigue and engage. Whilst this second episode was no doubts safer than our introduction, there is enough heft, drama, and ultimately desire to continue watching. After closing on a image as ruthless as a slowly dying James, what will next week have in store for he, and indeed us?
Taboo airs on BBC One HD on Saturday evenings at 9:15pm. It airs on FX in the United States on Tuesday evenings.