Taboo finished the way viewers probably least expected – with a happy ending.
The final scene of the series’ finale saw James Delaney sailing into the sunset, not just free but triumphant.
Tom Hardy’s strange, savage, social outcast had survived, escaped, and out-manoeuvred the various rival factions surrounding him. He was headed for a bright New World, leaving his enemies behind him dead or defeated and improbably, ingeniously, still in possession of the means to make his fortune.
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Survivor: Tom Hardy’s strange, savage, social outcast James Delaney had survived, escaped, and out-manoeuvred the various rival factions surrounding him in Taboo
Mind you he wasn’t exactly doing a jig. This was James Delaney/Tom Hardy we were talking about.
But all in all, things had gone if not swimmingly but certainly more smoothly than seemed likely when the episode began.
Delaney was in a cell for one thing, in chains in the Tower, waiting to be hanged for treason, and recovering from spending the previous week being subjected to vigorous bouts of ye olde water-boarding and being beaten with various blunt or spiky metal instruments.
His opponents representing the Monarchy and the all-powerful East India Trading Company had succeeded in torching Delaney’s ship and persuading two supposed allies to betray him.
Locked up: Delaney was in a cell, in chains in the Tower, waiting to be hanged for treason, and recovering from spending the previous week being subjected to vigorous bouts of ye olde water-boarding and being beaten with various blunt or spiky metal instruments
After seven episodes of commendably complex, conniving, plotting – by both Delaney, his adversaries, and scriptwriter Steven Knight – the concluding hour saw the storyline move forward disappointingly quickly and simply.
His torturers’ best efforts (or worst) magically vanished, despite King George III’s enforcer Solomon Coop threatening: ‘I will squash your balls myself and make you eat the paste. You promised to give me those names.’
‘Did I? Mmmmh. I must have lied,’ Delaney mused characteristically. ‘I will tell you one thing. The charges of treason will be dropped by midday, the witnesses vanish, and testimonies burned.’
Face to face: Delaney requested and was (improbably) granted a visit from his arch enemy, East India boss Sir Stuart Strange (played with superbly vitriolic obscenities by Jonathan Pryce)
So it proved after Delaney requested and was (improbably) granted a visit from his arch enemy, East India boss Sir Stuart Strange (played with superbly vitriolic obscenities by Jonathan Pryce).
After a swift piece of negotiation/blackmail, Delaney walked free and the witnesses (a local prostitute Pearl and her haggard Madam Helga) not only released from the Crown’s protective custody but delivered to Delaney.
A new ship also followed instantly.
Free man: After a swift piece of negotiation/blackmail, Delaney walked free
Safe passage was secured from Countess Musgrove by Lorna Bow who proved surprisingly adept at criminality for an actress.
She also cleared Delaney of murdering Helga’s daughter Winter.
Atticus and his gang disposed of the East India’s lackeys Pettifer and Wilton (with the complicity of Sir Stuart), whilst renegade chemist Mr Cholmondeley and his black-market gunpowder took care of the soldiers that stormed the docks to stop Delaney’s departure.
This was after the Prince Regent had finally lost patience waiting for Messrs Strange and Coop to ‘persuade’ Delaney to give Nootka Sound (a strategically crucial piece of land on Vancouver Island that he had inherited) to the British rather than their warring opponents, the Americans.
On her way: Safe passage was secured from Countess Musgrove by Lorna Bow who proved surprisingly adept at criminality for an actress
‘Just f**king kill him !’ he ordered Coop dementedly, living up to his reputation. ‘Everyone must hang ! East India, Americans, Irish, French, dogs, cats, rabbits, priests…’
‘But if Delaney dies Nootka Sound goes to the America as per his will,’ his saner advisor reminded him.
‘F**k Nootka ! F**k wills ! F**k treaties !’ roared George (Mark Gatiss enjoying himself enormously). ‘I’m the head of the f**king state. By the command of His Majesty, kill him !’
Sadly, the concluding set-piece shoot-outs were disjointed and despite all the gunpowder traps not so much explosive as a poor imitation of those in Steven Knight’s Peaky Blinders.
Setting sail: A new ship also followed instantly with the release of Delaney
In truth, compared to the preceding seven instalments, Taboo’s denouement was a disappointing dud and a damp squib, as if all the loose ends of the plot were being tied up neatly and there was not enough of the budget left to deliver a more stunning finale.
Those of us hoping for Hardy to indulge in one last fantastic act of depravity (i.e. most of Taboo’s regular viewers) were left unrewarded.
There were no final demonstrations of his prodigious talents for violence, hallucinogenic voodoo, or cannibalism. He failed to polish off Sir Stuart Strange by eating him (or part of him).
It wasn’t even Delaney that eliminated him but Cholmondeley and that was with an suspect package that didn’t actually grant us the satisfaction of seeing the amoral capitalist/slave-trader being blown up.
Not happy: Prince Regent finally lost patience waiting for Messrs Strange and Coop to ‘persuade’ Delaney to give Nootka Sound (a strategically crucial piece of land on Vancouver Island that he had inherited) to the British
Delaney’s only contribution to the purge was removing Dr Dumbarton, the American spy who it transpired was a double agent trying to secure Nootka for the East India Trading Company all along.
‘No one in this city has only one master,’ Dumbarton shrugged.
‘I do,’ Delaney murmured and smashing his head into the table before submerging his face in a bowl of blue dye and hanging up his corpse like a soiled human version of the Stars ‘n’ Stripes.
It had of course been James’ lover, his half-sister Zilpha who’d already murdered her vile, racist, husband even though Delaney had the chance to defend her honour in a duel.
Honour: Zilpha had already murdered her vile, racist, husband even though Delaney had the chance to defend her honour in a duel
Now she had killed herself – the only (large) blot of Delaney’s otherwise perfect plan. (Lorna Bow suffering gun wounds, Cholmondeley being gently charred, and Helga shot dead hardly counted.)
She had committed suicide, stepping off a bridge into a CGI of the Thames and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
As if acknowledging that his mystic, twisted, supernatural powers so evident in the earlier episodes were indeed over, Delaney refused to believe it.
‘If she were dead I would know. I would feel it – as if there were a door open in this very house. If she was in the river she would sing to me and I would hear her.’
Guns at the ready: There was no shortage of gun-play during Saturday evening’s finale
But, as we had seen in the opening credits throughout the whole series, she was in the river, elegantly drowning after writing her goodbye.
‘Dear James, at last I have found a way out of the cage in which I have been living. I intend to leave society, leave London, leave England…’
Leave him, even though she was finally free to be with him.
‘I am planning to journey to heaven,’ she said even though he was surely going to hell.
It didn’t necessarily make sense, unless that she was just mad – an explanation that fitted everything and everyone in Taboo.
Emotional: Zilpha wrote her goodbye after committing suicide by stepping off a bridge into a CGI of the Thames and St. Paul’s Cathedral
Hardy had been mesmerising as Delaney, even when he strayed into the realms of absurdity (especially then): the missing link between Dickens and a Marilyn Manson video, a cross between Heathcliff and Colonel Kurtz.
‘The things I did in Africa make your transgressions look paltry,’ he told Sir Stuart. ‘I witnessed and participated in darkness that you cannot conceive.’
No idle boast. Perhaps it was for the best that we didn’t learn what he meant and Knight didn’t give us specifics about the sins he had committed. Still, after eight weeks of teasing (‘They said you were dead,’ Zilpha greeted him in the first episode. ‘I am,’ he growled) it might have been nice. Well, more like nasty…
Deprived of the opportunity to enjoy any more incest (even when Zilpha was not with him and asleep), Delaney’s conduct in the series’ finale also seemed to suggest he’d been cured of his cannibalism and penchant for practicing voodoo.
Not what we wanted at all.
It was a shame to see Taboo’s perverse, polluted, picture of 1814 London end so tamely.
Sailing away: The way Delaney was sailing towards the bright horizon, accompanied by his loyal band of followers, he could have been another Poldark – with similar designer scars but different trademark hats
Hardy’s collaboration with Knight has been one of the most extraordinary, subversive, dramas British television has ever produced – something more akin to American shows like Penny Dreadful and American Horror Story.
By the close Delaney was more hero than anti-hero, having liberated his servant Brace, started tolerating children, and given George Chichester the testimonies he needed to bring the East India Trading Company and Sir Stuart Strange to justice.
The way Delaney was sailing towards the bright horizon, accompanied by his loyal band of followers, he could have been another Poldark – with similar designer scars but different trademark hats.
‘To America then?’ Atticus assumed.
‘No. Ponta Delgado in the Azores,’ Delaney corrected.
They’re off: As he looked out at the sea, for once Delaney even smiled. Well almost…
‘I thought the gunpowder was for the Americans?’ the man who had helped Delaney steal it asked, which we also thought it had been.
‘We are Americans,’ Delaney murmured, as the ship switched to the flag they were now travelling/trading under.
As he looked out at the sea, for once Delaney even smiled.