Look, I know I lured you into Taboo with the idea of watching Tom Hardy naked, but I have something to tell you about the first episode.
***Minor, if not crushing, Spoiler***
Tom Hardy is not naked in the first episode of Taboo.
Here, take this for your troubles, and then we’ll get on with things.
The great news is, Taboo doesn’t need Tom Hardy naked; it’s damned intriguing, even with clothes! (And, the clothes are pretty nifty, too. Capes and top hats and veils, oh my …) By now you must have heard the general premise: Hardy plays James Delaney, a brother and son thought long dead after a storm wrecked and sank his boat; the series begins with his surprise return to 1814 London amid his father, Horace’s funeral. Thought to have been survived only by his married step-daughter, Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) — with whom James has an odd relationship that’s not entirely revealed — the returned son’s appearance throws a wrench into a pair of plots. During the ongoing war of 1812, the formerly wealthy Horace Delaney lost most of his assets, leaving only the deed to a previously worthless piece of land that with the war near its end, James knows could become quite valuable. Before his return, Zilpha’s creepy husband, Thorne (Jefferson Hall) had worked out a deal with some lovely fellows from the East India Company; as Thorne pressures his wife to manipulate her half-brother, James makes an interesting discovery about his father’s death. Cue the raised eyebrows and an increasingly irked James.
Hardy is at his best with this type of barely contained, morally ambiguous and mysterious character, heroic in some ways, and fearsome in others. As with his Bane, Alfie Solomons and John Fitzgerald, you get the feeling at any moment, James could and will explode, but there’s also a hint of vulnerability, something unspoken has happened to this man thought lost. Though he warns people off with his manner and talk of past dark deeds, his warmth toward one trusted person, and staunch commitment to his word belie a better man than Delaney claims to be. Swathed top to bottom in heavy black clothing, topped with cape and hat, Hardy’s menacing eyes and imposing carriage is as affecting as his (to come) tattooed nudity; there’s no immunity to his onscreen presence.
Chapin makes the most of Zilpha’s short, quiet moments, sharing a knowing look with James and perhaps fearful of (and secretly plotting behind) her controlling husband. Jonathan Pryce (Game of Thrones) is perfectly cast as Sir Stuart Strange, a duplicitous East India Company wheeler and dealer with whom James has a previous relationship, and Michael Kelly (House of Cards) plays a suitably creepy doctor; David Hayman (London Spy) is wonderful as Bryce, the elder Delaney’s manservant and now, the closest thing James has to a friend.
If you’ve watched co-creator, Steven Knight’s Peaky Blinders, you’re already familiar with his dark landscapes; the look and feel is at times similar, though slightly more raw. One episode into the unsettling, gritty Taboo world and even without nudity, I can’t wait for the next hour to start. Of course, we do still have this to look forward to:
Taboo also stars Franka Potente, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Richard Dixon, Edward Hogg, Christopher Fairbank and Leo Bill; the series premieres tonight at 10 pm ET on FX.