If you love being frightened, then you may have had high hopes that Tom Hardy's new FX show would be like the network's other star-studded series, American Horror Story. Yet, I would not place Hardy's series Taboo in the horror genre. While Ryan Murphy's American Horror Story anthology delights in scaring fans, Taboo is a dark drama at its cold core. Yes, it will certainly spook you, thanks to Hardy's intensity and some mysterious supernatural elements, but the series premiere on Jan. 10 showed that Taboo is more than a scary story.
The premise of Taboo is that following the death of Horace Delaney, his son James Keziah Delaney (Hardy) returns to London in 1814 after being presumed dead. He had been in Africa for the last 10 years and only his father, who had gone mad before his death, believed him to be alive. Taboo's version of London is gritty and filthy (the bad teeth alone could give you nightmares) with butchers cutting up indistinguishable parts of animals in the alleys, sex workers occupying the Delaney family's old offices, and gravediggers exhuming the bodies of corpses for their own supposed sordid deeds. The vibe of Taboo is pure darkness — in tone and in aesthetic — and it only grows darker by the long shadow cast by Hardy's character.
Hardy's James is completely menacing with most of the "civilized" characters in London noting that he doesn't belong in the city after his years spent in Africa. There is racism along with the fear — not just toward Africans, but also toward indigenous peoples in general since James' mother was a native of Nootka Sound, the land James is fighting the East India Company to keep. The British people James encounters do not approve of the assumed mysticism that surrounds him from his time spent in Africa and even though most people do not know his Native American roots, it feels the series is setting up for his ancestry to come out.
Yet, rather than the British characters' fear and scorn of James be an ill-founded stereotype of the lands they have colonized, it holds some truth in Taboo as James' vision of a dead slave proves. He also has a foggy vision of a woman in water, who wears a coat made of black feathers and appears to have the skin of someone who has drowned. Is this his mother, who his father had purchased to be his wife? Or a person who was with him when he allegedly drowned on a slave ship? Either way, James does appear to have some otherworldly powers that make him intimidating to all he encounters. As he says in the below promo, "I witnessed and participated in darkness that you cannot conceive."
As the miniseries continues, I only suspect it will become more unsettling — particularly as the Delaney family's history (including an ever-disturbing storyline of incest) and how James came to still be alive are revealed. After the first episode, Hardy's James has promised evil and he will most likely deliver on that promise before the show is over. So while it might not be a "horror" show, if the premiere is any indication, many aspects of Taboo will most certainly horrify you.