Perhaps my biggest problem with Taboo is its seemingly slow pace, which then, in turn, effects the progression of its characters. We have only learned fragmented pieces about people like James, Zilpha, Lorna, and Stuart Strange which has made it difficult to feel any sense of attachment towards these characters. The writers can hint all they want about James’ mysterious past, but until information really starts to surface, everything just feels disingenuous.
Luckily, things took a step in the right direction this week as we followed James after he escaped an assassination attempt at the end of episode two. From the start James had this rugged, bad-ass feel to him, but it wasn’t until we saw him kill his assailant with his own teeth, that we realized he is for real. James Delaney is not to be messed with. And, it’s not just his brute demeanor that should be feared either. James is also a quick thinker that knows how to play games and get what he wants. This week he made a nice play by drawing up a will and leaving the land known as the Nootka Sound to the Americans in the event of his death. This move is a devastating blow to Stuart Strange and the East India Company. In fact, the best line of the episode came from Strange when he said, “Now we know the savage boy is cunning too. And when peace comes, and this border is drawn, it will not be by soldiers, but by more fucking lawyers.”, and then he went on to say it is now in their best interest to keep James alive. The brilliant clashes between these two characters have been by far the most entertaining aspect of the series.
More importantly, this week finally shed some light on Delaney’s motivations. Right now, his main priority is screwing over Strange and the East Indian Company however he can. First, it’s by returning from Africa for his father’s funeral and laying claim to Nootka. Then it’s by trying to create a shipping monopoly from America to China, and lastly, if something does happen to him, that land will be bestowed to the Americans. It’s safe to assume their mutual pasts are fueling all of this and it will be only a matter of time until more information surfaces. It will also be interesting to see messes up or folds first.
While we might finally be learning more about Delaney and our main protagonist, Stuart Strange, the rest of the characters seemingly remain in the dark and relatively uninteresting. Zilpha’s husband, Thorne, is supposed to be the character you hate because he poses a threat to our main character. Instead, Thorne is hated because he provokes nothing other than a constant annoyance. He means relatively nothing to us right now so his continuous gloating and high-brown attitude are just off-putting. And similarly, Zilpha herself is still an extremely underdeveloped character, especially for one of the first people we meet back in episode one. Obviously, there is some sexual history between her and James, but right now that just seem like more of an unnecessary distraction than anything else unless we start getting some context.
After three episodes, Taboo still isn’t there as a story. It’s making progress towards something that is worth investing time in, but right now the writers are too focused on keeping us guessing rather than giving us pieces to suck us in. Fortunately, the show continues to look great, but at some point, the pleasure from the visuals will wear off and there won’t be an interesting story to back it up.