Not a ton about this show was advertised before thrusting it upon us, other than the occasional teaser trailer and reporter yattering about a gritty new Tom Hardy performance. It turns out there is plenty going on behind the scenes, as the show is being made by Steven Knight, Tom Hardy himself, and Hardy’s father Edward, commonly called Chips. All three of these men worked in one form or another on Peaky Blinders too, so don’t be surprised if you see quite a bit of similarity, as I did.
So what do we know, after that interesting premiere? We’re here in Britain 1814, and Hardy’s character James Delaney has returned from a twelve-year stint in Africa, following the news of his fathers grave illness. James got here too late and can only attend his fathers funeral, after which a whole bunch of trickery and subterfuge go on due to a plot of land Father Delaney owned in America.
That’s a highly simplified version of the overarching plot, but the show doesn’t really get to the plot of land or why it’s so important until more than halfway through the premiere, instead spending time establishing atmosphere mood and of course peripheral characters.
Atmosphere is fairly easy – we’re talking Victorian London Jack the Ripper type era, very Sweeney Todd-esque. Everything is dirty and soot-covered, most everyone seems to wear the dowdiest colors they can possibly afford, and dirt and grit and horseshit are pretty much everywhere, even where there are other vehicles available, which also means motor oil and yet more grime. The general feeling is one of utter desolation, and the few bright spots of color stand out that much more oddly amongst the darkness, like the canary being taken into the mines.
The mood is enhanced, that is to say, further greyed, by the surrounding area, but then again, we are attending a funeral. Father Horace Delaney was acknowledged by many as a right bastard, though what misadventures led to that stigma will likely be addressed in further episodes. James didn’t arrive in enough time to even bid his father good-bye, and with his use of what looked like African mourning customs at the funeral itself, he didn’t make any friends. Of course, James’ time in Africa changed him so completely, I strongly suspect he could give less than a damn about making or keeping friends here at home, and indeed, as the show goes on and James is confronted about his inheritance by one foe and another, we discover James is now completely unpredictable and you just never know how he’ll react next. Which, I think, is one way the show could keep going – we wait breathlessly to see how James will jump when confronted by the vultures circling his inheritance.
Amongst those circling are Zilpha Geary, James’ half-sister, and her social-climber husband Thorne, who both expected to inherit the whole of Horaces will after his death and were livid when it turns out they don’t. For some small comfort of the trustworthy and actual usable information, James turns to his fathers former servant Brace, who smartly tells James to trust no-one and give no quarter anywhere. And rounding out the carrion-eaters coming to feast is Sir Stuart Strange, Chairman of the East India Company.
It turns out, as far as Horace Delaney’s will is concerned, James’ inheritance is effectively useless aside from one small plot of land on the American West coast called Nootka Sound. And why on earth could that be important? The war between America and Great Britain is still going on in this time, and that teensy plot of land Nootka Sound, it turns out, is a gateway for trade and commerce hotly contested by the Americans and the British, most especially the East India Company. They are, for those of you who may not know, the equivalent of the CIA and NSA, governed by old British men with divine mandate justification and royalty on their side, the Pinkertons of this world. The guys who branded and were always after Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Carribean films, if that helps. And oh do these guys want that little plot of land Nootka Sound that now belongs to James, oh they want it so bad, but they have no idea who they’re dealing with when it comes to attempting to coerce James by whatever means necessary – royal order, patriotic duty, even religious commandment – and his reactions are the brilliant Hardy performances we all love.
Catch all the Taboo drama on FX, and streaming on Hulu!