you can’t call your show “Taboo” and not at least try to put some kind of glaring spotlight on society’s most uncomfortable topics.
As there are few, if any subjects that remain unspeakable — let’s not forget the term “golden showers” recently flooding headline news — it’s difficult to dig up “taboo” subjects that will shake up 21st century audiences. But show creators Tom Hardy, his father Chips and Steven Knight are trying their damnedest.
Up until now, the FX series has only tiptoed around certain cringe-worthy plot lines — but Jan. 24’s third installment dives right into the pool of distaste.
…Well, less of a dive. That’s too lyrical. This is more like a belly flop into an ocean of misogyny, incest and cannibalism. Foreshadowing what’s in store, the opening scene shows hungry crabs eating the flesh of a still warm dead body: The cadaver of Malay, the person who tried to kill James Keziah Delancey (Tom Hardy) at the end of episode 2 — and it’s clear the show’s star got in a few healthy bites himself before leaving the rest for open consumption.
We already thought Zilpha’s (Oona Chaplin) husband was awful, but in this episode he gives us two vitally uncomfortable conversations: One with Delancey, the other with his wife.. At which point viewers absurdly find themselves rooting for incest. As ridiculous as it sounds, we’d rather see Zilpha run off with her half-brother than stay with Geary (Jefferson Hall). Seeing Zilpha straddle Delancey in church, giving him one
come hither last farewell kiss, is disturbing to watch… But Geary telling Delancey he gets aroused thinking about his wife’s incestuous transgressions, and his return to town has only heated up their sex life, since Zilpha loves to be punished… Well, yikes. Who is this for?
Of course, Geary is lying. Behind closed doors, he berates his wife for getting her period again. In desperation for an heir, and in words we can’t print, Geary laments to Zilpha the fact that the only time she was able to get pregnant was laying with her brother in sin. Bravo, Knight and the Hardy Boys. We are officially physically cringing.
It’s clear Zilpha lusts for her brother’s affection — and we feel dirty even thinking Delancey would make her happier than the miserable excuse of a man that is her husband — but she’s not the only one secretly in love with Delancey. It’s revealed that Godfrey (Edward Hogg), the emissary for the East India Trading Company, enjoys a secret life as a transvestite, visiting S&M clubs at night. In exchange for keeping quiet about his personal life and a monthly stipend, Godfrey agrees to be Delancey’s eyes and ears in all forthcoming EIC meetings.
Lastly, we see Lorna (Jessie Buckley) — still unconfirmed as Horace’s legitimate widow and thus the terrible twosome’s stepmother — goes from being a legit threat to Delancey, to just another damsel in distress he must protect. Officially not one female on this series that doesn’t need to be saved by a man, or exist beyond her childbearing hips. These underlying themes are frustratingly misogynistic, and we’d suggest turning the channel… If it weren’t for the mention of Carlsbad.
While stitching up Delancey’s wounds, Dumbarton (Michael Kelly) accidentally reveals the mysterious American spy he’s hunting is indeed a woman. And (fingers crossed) Carlsbad will be the fiercely strong, cunningly smart lady we imagine her to be. Not only to give Delancey a worthy adversary, finally — but because “Taboo” is one grunt away from being a by-the-books boring cesspool of exploitation, archaic masculine toxicity, and for-its-own-sake gameplay.
We’re aware this is a vanity project, greenlit and riding on the back of Hardy’s charisma — but there’s no reason for that to be the end of it. It’s as easy to make a great show as it is to make a mediocre one, and we’re still giving “Taboo” (and FX, and Hardy) the benefit of the doubt. For now.
“Taboo” airs on Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.