The historic drama Taboo lives up to its title in every respect of the word and is not a show for the fainthearted. In just the first three episodes, it is clear the perpetrators of this drama have taken great pains to include every taboo known to man. The show is riddled with distasteful crimes from incest to cannibalism. Such a controversial show may have created the desired effect in the past, but in the age of Game of Thrones, Taboobecomes another desperate attempt at shocking the public for acclaim.
The episodes favour gruesome imagery frequently enough to make the sight of raw bloodied meat or a man’s insides become tiresomely predictable. Nothing is left to the imagination as the camera focuses on the unsettling details of dissecting flesh. Episode one features a close-up of a knife penetrating a corpse, episode two presents the protagonist James Delaney devouring the flesh off another man, and episode three opens with a frame focused entirely on the gory insides of yet another dead body. While for some this may be an excellent catharsis of bloodthirsty appetites, I find the shows cinematography crude and tasteless.
It is as if the directors sought to load the show with graphic depictions of bloodshed so as to draw attention away from the painfully slow-moving plot. The episodes see Delaney tortured by gothic flashbacks of his past, and caught amidst a dangerous feud between Britain and the United States over his newly inherited land; Nootka Sound. The dialogue is littered with the ‘oh-so-shockable’ word ‘fucking’, and amounts to hyperbolically comical phrases shouted dispassionately such as ‘your legacy is your death sentence’. The narrative structure is as slow as the characters who walk idly around to a backdrop of monotonous music. The tension which thrives in Taboo’s background music leaves its audience perturbed during the entire 59 minutes without a momentary release of ease.
Even the shots of daylight seem overshadowed by darkness and the dystopian world of Taboo has no refuge of innocence. The children are unoffended by dead bodies, even willing to search a corpse for valuables, and the rest of the characters are equally disagreeable. It is difficult to empathize with anyone in Taboo, particularly as our hero happens to be a psychotic murderer with cannibalistic tendencies. Other characters include a comically grotesque Prince Regent and a half-sister ‘Zilpha’ whose only distinct quality is her incestuous nature, epitomised by a passionate kiss with her half-brother James in a church- a desperate plot at uttermost controversy.
The show’s only silver lining features in the form of Hardy’s impeccable portrayal of the super-powered protagonist, whose invincibility and genius is almost too much to believe. Yet even the impressive presence of Hardy is not enough to arouse my interest in this spew of bleakness. The show is incapable of achieving a balance between light and dark, and as episode two ends with Delaney stabbed perhaps fatally, I found myself hoping that would be it for Taboo.