Taboo (S01E08): “Episode Eight”

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WARNING: FULL SPOILERS

Taboo’s season finale is an exciting and often cathartic end to the first season. The nature of the show’s narrative and dark main character left the outcome in doubt and it is a pleasant surprise to see something of a “happy” ending. As Delaney (Tom Hardy) escapes the British with yet another carefully thought out plan, the “bad guys” get what they deserve and our grumbling hero gets his revenge.

That said, there is something of a rushed pace and once the excitement dies down, there is a little bit of a let down. Some characters are either neglected or straight up wasted. This unfortunate flaw brings down what should have been an amazing finale.

Man Against A Kingdom

source: FX/BBC

For the most part, Delaney’s defiance of an empire is incredibly satisfying. Delaney’s plan to escape the British government’s custody is particularly brilliant and entertaining. He once again manages to outmaneuver Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce), making him release Helga (Franka Potente) which leads to his own release from the Tower of London. He even manages to get the East India Company to give him a ship.

The scene in the jail cell is very fun to watch as the balance of power slowly seeps onto Delaney’s side. Delaney’s utter confidence chips away at Strange’s haughtiness as the latter slowly realizes what is happening: He has no choice but to help Delaney or face the same fate should his dalliance in the slave trade be revealed. Last week, I praised how slimy Strange became when he thought he had the upper hand. To see it crashing down is great.

Speaking of characters getting their comeuppance, Strange’s chief subordinates Pettifer (Richard Dixon) and Wilton (Leo Bill) meet their ends. Maybe it is the sadistic guy in me, but it is very satisfying to see the looks on those sycophants’ faces just before they are killed. All of their haughtiness disappears just before they get bullets to the head. Heh heh…

I also love how Delaney deals with double agent Dumbarton (Michael Kelly). After the latter tries to get Nootka signed over to Strange, Delaney reveals he has known his true allegiances the whole time. He overpowers the doctor and drowns him in his own dyes.

At the end of the episode, all of this ties into Strange’s final fate. And it is very satisfying. The episode never outright tells us what is happening as Strange gleefully opens what he believes is a freshly delivered signed deed to Nookta. The show lets us put it all together and openly wonder, “What is in that package?” The explosion is very surprising…and honestly joyful. Strange finally gets his comeuppance at what he thinks is his ultimate triumph.  My only concern: We never actually see Strange die…could he return?

source: FX/BBC

The steadily evolving relationship between Lorna (Jessie Buckley) and Delaney has a pretty solid resolution. After Delaney learns of Zilpha’s (Oona Chaplin) suicide (More on that later), Lorna actually turns the tables on him. She talks to him like he talks to everyone, with darkly poetic lines like, “The dead don’t sing.” Buckley become a favorite of mine on the show and this moment feels like the best one between them. The two never become romantic and that works for them. It is a fun dynamic that I hope is explored in a second season.

My only complaint: Does Lorna die at the end? She does not look like she is in great shape as Delaney checks on her after that massive battle on the docks. Though that moment they have is genuinely touching.

As for that battle, it is an effectively kinetic sequence that offers a satisfying finale for Delaney’s escape. The Prince Regent (Mark Gatiss) orders Delaney’s death after tiring of Soloman Coop’s (Jason Watkins) failure to break the man. I could not help but get an “Avengers Assemble!” feeling as the League of the Damned come together for what seems like a final stand.

One of the more emotional moments comes before a shot is fired: Delaney refusing to bring Brace (David Hayman) with him is heartbreaking. Hayman has an absolutely devastated look on his face, the second time we have seen this. You cannot help but feel for the man, but Delaney is right…he would not know what to do with freedom. It may seem cruel, but remember Delaney despises any kind of restraint. Freedom would be a restraint for Brace.

As for the battle itself, it is bloody and violent. Cholmondeley (Tom Hollander) has some fun explosive moments during the fight before he is severely wounded as is Lorna, but their fates are the only ones that really register. Several of Atticus’ (Stephen Graham) anonymous henchmen fall, but most of the main characters are unscathed. I did not mourn the loss of Helga, but not because I hate the character but because she really did not get a lot of development.

The battle is well shot, avoiding shaky cam for the most part. You never get lost in the action and blood is on gory display. But it is also a bit rushed and frankly a little easy. Unfortunately, this is not the only instance.

Zilpha, We Hardly Knew You

source: FX/BBC

The episode opens with a beautifully shot sequence as Zilpha walks slowly across a bride over the Thames. Through her narration, she wishes to meet her beloved James in the next life. She slowly climbs the wall and throws herself in, plunging into the depths below.

The sequence is visually great, but it also offers a sudden and unwelcome end for Zilpha. She started as a bland character I hated, but eventually became more compelling as she broke through her meek veneer with the murder of her husband.

I understand what Taboo tried to do with the character. Zilpha was a woman constrained by a society that expects certain things from its female citizens. I was more forgiving of the character’s portrayal because of this. And when she “emerged” from those constraints, she became unpredictable and therefore, much more interesting.

But then Zilpha was virtually absent from the last couple of episodes, becoming a slave of sorts to Delaney’s “love.” She was not a liberated woman at all…she was still subservient to a man. She simply traded one cell for another.

In this episode, Zilpha is a simple plot device. She is the last vestige of Delaney’s past that he must let go of to continue on. He complains that he does not hear her sing when she dies, and after Lorna talks him into leaving her memories behind, he walks away when he finally gets that vision. And that is all she does in the episode.

Oona Chaplin is a talented actress with a strikingly unique look and Taboo pretty much wastes her. It feels like the show could never get a real handle on her. I do not think it is because she is female…the show handles Lorna perfectly. Zilpha seems more like a character that looks interesting on paper as concept rather than a fully realized person.

Zilpha’s fate is rushed and the whole episode has that feel as well. Delaney is released, obtains a ship, deals with Dumbarton and then battles to set sail…all of this happens very quickly and it is hard to take it all in. Delaney would achieve something important, but before we can savor it, the episode is already moving on to the next obstacle.

This is an ensemble cast so it is understandable that some characters would get the short end of the stick screen time wise, but some important characters have no resolution. Delaney’s son Robert (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) gets screen time, but is barely dealt with, sharing few scenes with his father. Does Robert even know Delaney is his father? What about Godfrey (Edward Hogg)? What fate does he have?

The action is great, but it is less effective if I do not care about the characters that action is happening to. I am a little more forgiving of this because the season as a whole developed some of these characters, but it is still a flaw that takes away from the over all enjoyment of the season finale.

We Are Americans Now

Delaney’s ultimate fate was always in question, given the historical power of the real life East India Company. That combined with a dark story line about revenge at any cost meant that our dark hero could have met a more violent and sad end. Taboo does a great job a believable “happy” ending that does not feel tacked on. Despite my issues, this is a solid ending to a great first season.

Peace does not suit our dark hero, so his continued involvement with the American spy ring is a nice set up for a second season. Hopefully, Delaney’s relationship with Robert is explored further, along with his dynamic with Lorna, should she survive. And of course, it will be incredibly fun to see what the man with no sense gets himself into next.

SCORE: 8 OUT OF 10

Taboo airs Tuesdays at 10pm on FX in the United States

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