TV Review: Taboo: ‘Episode Two’


S1, E2: ‘Episode Two’

Tell me more about this man with the silver tooth…Winter.

Grade: B+


‘Mistress Helga gave information to a man with a silver tooth.’

If I find a line that more perfectly sums up this show, be sure, gentle reader, that you will find out about it. In the meantime, shedding salt tears, I have discarded such gems as ‘You really must drink more from the green bottle, and less from the pink’, ‘I live with the whores, but I’m a virgin’ and ‘He was trying to push his jelly up a whore’ (all of which I am planning to employ in daily conversation with IMMEDIATE effect).

James is racking up enemies at the rate of knots. There’s Backpfeifengesicht Geary, whom we know doesn’t care for Jimmy. There’s the Company, of course, where Sir Stuart’s thwarted rage is a beautifully bitchy delight to behold. James has set up a trading company and is buying ships from under the Company’s nose. Sir Stuart asks the pertinent question of how the deuce Jimmy could afford ships, and we have our answer: diamonds. Diamonds that he keeps in a safe. With a pistol that he hands to his disgusted Grizzled Retainer.

While James is disbursing diamonds and monies, he is acquiring colourful sidekicks. A much-tattooed Underworld Encyclopaedia called Atticus (played by Stephen Graham) and the whore-cohabitant virgin: a thirteen-year-old mixed-race girl who approaches our James with information about this homicidal silver-toothed man. Who is teaming up with the madam who had set up shop in James’s father’s old trading company HQ in the previous episode. And whom James told to leave with what I thought was actually reasonable civility, in the circumstances. Still, James has gotten between her and her sweet riverside office, and London’s property market’s always been cut-throat.

Never mind, though. James finds Mistress Helga (Franka Potente), tells her that there is goodness in her and plucks her wig off her head. This display so inflames Helga that she lets slip a clue as to the race of the silver-toothed man (Malay) and makes a truly skin-crawling overture to James. Seriously, Franka Potente is a lovely woman and a good actor, but there is nothing she can do with ‘But I would like you inside of me.’ James politely but firmly rebuffs her, and I’m sure I don’t blame him. Awww, James. And you were getting on so well….

Anyway, James takes possession of the ship he bought earlier. He finds manacles and chains…and of course strips buck naked in the warm flickering candlelight so that he can chisel shapes into the wood and chant and PTSD about his time as a slaver and the galley full of poor souls he presumably allowed to drown. Well, all right then. He also has a wonderful ‘the condor shits into the Ambassador’s hat at nightfall’ Cold War Spy Drama chat with an American surgeon/flag-dyer/spy called Dumbarton (House of Cards’s Michael Kelly). He is rebuffed, but not killed. Which basically means the beginning of a beautiful friendship, yeah?

And James may need all the friends he can get, because he’s got 99 problems, and a bitch is definitely one. Or maybe two. Zilpha is marginally more interesting to me this week as she is revealed as a haughty self-loathing Estella type with a weakness for her exotic half-brother, rather than simply as a shivering damsel in distress. And James discovers that he might have a new mamma-in-law: a self-possessed actress named Lorna Bow (Jessie Buckley).

And his girl problems don’t end there: a shadowy veiled figure attacks him in the street, and she is revealed to be the silver-toothed Malay in drag. James rips out his assailant’s throat. With his teeth. And collapses against a wall with a knife in his gut.

And you know what? I never really got the Tom Hardy obsession before. But now? Man, all I want to do is marathon Gossip Girl and Sherlock with him. I want to read his Buffy fanfic. Can you even imagine?

Historical notes

  • The show’s going with the ‘gross eejit’ version of the Prince Regent, I see. Which is reasonably historically accurate, I believe, regarding any geopolitical matters.
  • The slave trade was technically illegal at the time in which the episode is set. At least it was illegal on British soil, and in 1814 treaties were being signed with Holland and France to phase out the slave trade. Slavery would not be outlawed outright, however, until 1833.
  • The East India Company was powerful, and had dominion over a fifth of the world’s population. But at the time in which the show is set (1814), it had actually been enfeebled by the expansion of its Indian territories. Parliament had had to bail it out (sound familiar?), and the Company had been forced to submit to the Crown, open India up to missionaries and relinquish its monopoly.
  • I like that the show pays at least lip-service to the geographical breadth of the Empire at the time, as well as the already considerable racial diversity of London: Africans, Native Americans and Malays. Now if the show could give some of them speaking parts (yes, your contribution is noted, Winter)….

Odds and sods

  • Man, Jonathan Pryce is having a blast as Sir Stuart. It helps that he is given such delicious stage business – a fantastic combination of finickiness and drama. Look at him lobbing that ball of paper at his jowly manservant, telling him to pick it up and saying that the paper contains Jowly’s two days’ notice, to be staved off only in the event of killing James Delaney. The perfect cocktail of office bureaucracy and James Bond villain. Love it.
  • Prinny (the Prince Regent, later George IV) makes an appearance. And just as I’m thinking ‘You look familiar…’ I realise that a ) he’s played by Mark Gatiss, or Sherlock’s Mycroft, b ) they’ve stripped a few layers of the fat-suit he was wearing in the Sherlock Victoriana Mind Palace Episode, and c ) they may even be using the same Diogenes Club set. My god, I’ll never be free of that show.
  • Is it me, or is the swearing….off….on this show? I noticed it last episode too. I can’t put my finger on it, but someone says ‘fuck’ or ‘bloody’ and it pulls me out of the moment. Something about the timing of the profanity. It just throws off the cadence of the sentences, I think. Like, I find myself wondering if Tom Hardy just doesn’t swear in real life.
  • And also – and forgive me for my lack of delicacy – if he fucks in total silence. In what universe is ‘I would like you inside of me’ anything other than a stone-cold boner-killer?
  • ‘I ate in the whorehouse.’ ‘To qualify as food, it needs to be solid.’ Grizzled Retainer is growing on me. Jesus, fine, I’ll learn his name. Brace. It’s Brace. Are you happy now, Griz-Brace?

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