Tom Hardy is the latest movie star to dip his toe in the television pond with the promise (or at least option) of an end in sight. It’s a formula we’ve seen over and over lately: limited series + top talent + premiere network = wild success with minimal commitment from both the cast, crew and audience (See: The Night Of (HBO), The People vs O.J. (FX), American Horror Story (FX), The Night Manager (AMC), and season one of True Detective (HBO)). But, will FX’s newest adventure, TABOO, live up to its predecessors? After watching three out of eight episodes, it’s still unclear.
Having an Oscar nominee – Hardy was nominated last year for his performance in The Revenant – attached as not only the star but as a writer and producer as well as heavy hitters like Ridley Scott (Alien, The Martian) and Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders) gives a promise of quality and high standard, a standard I’m still not sure will be met.
TABOO takes place in 1814 London at a time of contention between England and America. After his crazy father dies, James Delaney (Tom Hardy) returns home to bury him after spending 10 years away in a mysterious part of Africa. It’s made abundantly clear that James is not the same, rash man the town thought died on a sinking ship, but rather a man who has seen things and knows things and tends to do “very foolish” things. Every so often we learn a new tidbit about James, like he was aboard a ship carrying slaves that sank, killing all the slaves on board, who now haunt him (at least that’s how it seems), or his mother was a Native American, or he’s in love with his half-sister, Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) who is begging him to keep secrets buried in the past – tidbits left dangling long enough you sort of forget about them until a random flashback or passing mention jolts your memory.
Beyond these sprinkles of intrigue is the main story: The East India Trading Company has a particular interest in buying a small piece of land in America called Nootka Sound. This tiny slice of land is the key to acquiring the entire island of Vancouver, the gateway to trading with China. With that in mind, James knows this land his father bought for beads and gunpowder 30-something years ago is of great importance not just to the Crown and Company but to the United States, too. The Company’s attempt to buy said land is led by Sir Stuart Strange, played by Jonathan Pryce, who is just as unlikable as Pryce’s High Sparrow in Game of Thrones – just with decidedly more f-bombs. To combat the Company, Delaney begins to gather his rag-tag group of bandits and reclaims his family’s offices, which has been overrun by a madam and her whores, and creates the Delaney Nootka Trading Company.
It’s possibly an understatement to say the series starts slow, which seems unreasonable seeing as there are only eight episodes to begin with, but, then again, a lot can happen in the remaining five hours I’ve yet to see. Between the grunts and grumblings and mumblings, we embark on a journey through a dark and dangerous time with the even darker James Delaney as our guide – it’s a tough path to follow with blind trust placed in Tom Hardy, Ridley Scott, Steven Knight and FX to get us through the journey with just the possibility of a heavy-handed payout in the end.
Don’t miss the premiere of TABOO at 10pm ET tonight on FX.