TV Review: Taboo Series Premiere – “Shovels & Keys”

Tom Hardy stars as James Keziah Delaney in the highly anticipated U.S. premiere of Taboo. Created by Tom and Chips Hardy, as well as Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders), Taboo dives deep into the gloominess of early 19th century London as Delaney fights for what is rightfully his, while fighting demons of his own.

Thought to be dead for some time, James Keziah Delaney makes a shocking reappearance in the wake of his father’s funeral. After leaving England for Africa over 10 years ago in search of riches, it was reported that Delaney died while aboard a slave ship that sank years ago. Delaney’s father, said to have lost his mind, left behind in his will a small bit of land on the Canadian-American coast called Nootka Sound. Because Delaney was assumed dead, his half-sister Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) and her husband Thorne (Jefferson Hall)  were expecting to receive the land purchased by Delaney Sr. those many years ago. Due to the geographic location of the sound, the British East India Company has a vested interest in acquiring the land at whatever cost to ensure that is does not get into the hands of the newly-formed United States.

Zilpha and Thorne had already begun negotiations with Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce), chairmen of the East India Company, with every intention of selling the land, but the emergence of Delaney destroys all attempts made by Zilpha to buy the Nootka Sound. Delaney is legally the owner, and he has no intention on giving it to Stuart Strange.

After many years abroad in Africa, it is evident that Delaney has been through the darkest places in hell, and it has left him somewhat unstable and feral. Though there are rumors about Delaney’s mysterious past, we are still unsure as to what is true and what isn’t, other than the fact that it still haunts him. This is made evident by the distorted flashbacks and hallucinations of what seems to be the slaves whom he watched die on the ship.

Upon returning, Delaney undeniably trusts no one, and with good reason. After digging up his father’s corpse due to his own suspicions, he learns that his father was poisoned over a period of time which ultimately led to his death. There are a few people of interest that could be at fault; primarily either Zilpha and Thorne, or the sinister Sir Stuart. As the episode progresses, it touches briefly on different aspects of Delaney’s enigmatic life, but leaves you at the edge of your seat wanting it to delve just a little deeper in order to understand this conundrum of a man.

Tom Hardy is the driving force of the entire episode with his Bane-like voice and subtle gestures that portray his character so perfectly. He is the show’s protagonist without being a protagonist at all, which is primarily what makes him so alluring. In Taboo, the tables have turned and instead of finding yourself rooting for the loyal patrons of England, you are instead rooting for a vicious and heartless man with no sense of loyalty to anything. Taboo makes you question if good and evil really are so black and white, or if there is a much broader area of grey.

Another character that I believe shows a great deal of promise is Zilpha, though it is hard to determine if she will reach her potential in episodes to come. Throughout the premiere, Zilpha seems like quite an underwritten and unassuming character. It becomes obvious early on that she and her half-brother, Delaney, have been “involved” with one another in the past. At first glance, she seems like the cliché wife who is there more as an accessory than anything else. However, it seems that her modest and meek act may be just that, an act. Is she just an obedient and innocent wife like she seems, or is she just playing her cards close to her chest? I hope that as the show progresses, she does not remain an underdeveloped character. I believe that there would be a huge waste of potential in keeping her so insubstantial.


All in all, the grimy, gothic portrayal of 1814 London along with grungy characters adds authenticity that hard to find. The show is well made, well-written, and well acted. I am wrapped up in the deranged family drama and can’t wait for their secrets to unravel.

Rating: 8.5/10

Taboo airs Tuesdays at 10 PM EST on FX. 



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