Taboo – Episode 2

FX’s Taboo
Episode 2
Directed by Kristoffer Nyholm
Written by Steven Knight

* For a recap & review of Episode 1, “Shovels and Keys” – click here
screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-7-49-42-pmOn the tail of his refusal to sell Nootka Sound, James Keziah Delaney (Tom Hardy) is a man apart after returning from Africa to his old home in London. Over at the East India Company, Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce) isn’t happy with those beneath him, with whom he’s charged the task of killing James. And it’s either play ball, or lose your job. Meanwhile, Delaney’s in the wilderness with a shovel; he retrieves a small bag. Of money? Or something more?
Back at the house with Brace (David Hayman), James charges the caretaker with arming himself against whatever’s coming next. We find out more about old man Delaney’s last days, how he rarely ate and only drank beer from a man who sold it for cheap. The paranoia is setting into James, and rightfully so, as his father was poisoned, now there are people fitting to do the same, or worse, to him. A storm is brewing. A bad one, too.
At a ship auction, James puts in a bid of 800 pounds on a merchant vessel. He buys it under the name of Delaney Nootka Trading. Now there are many more knickers in knots. Strange is less than pleased with the news. He wants to understand – “Why did he know so much about the border negotiations?” among other things. Strange comes to believe the Americans are responsible, backing Delaney. But I think it’s all in the name of proper vengeance.
screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-7-57-37-pmJames finds a note with the name Atticus written on it, and he comes across the man whose name he seeks, a rough looking chap named Atticus (Stephen Graham); tattooed from head to toe, covered with butchers blood. They sit and chat. Atticus plans on writing a book, which is awesome. Furthermore, we’re told “when someone wants a man killed they come to Atticus.” We’ll be seeing more of this lad.
Solomon Coop (Jason Watkins) brings a map for whom I can only assume is George IV (Mark Gatiss) in his later years, though the Prince Regent doesn’t approve of the colours for the British ships as blue when the Americans are red. He’s a bit of a crass man, both in terrible health and with an equally terrible attitude. Fuck everybody, is the basic message he sends out to all.
Along the dark harbour at night James runs into a young girl named Winter (Ruby-May Martinwood). She lives at the whorehouse, though insists she’s a virgin. She brings unpleasant news about Helga (Franka Potente) who’s conspiring to do James harm.  So off the pair go – “Are you tricking me?” asks James, perhaps knowing there’s a good chance she is, indeed. Although they have a nice little chat, and Winter feels genuine. She even asks James to take her to America one day. When they come near a ship James swims on by himself. Aboard the boat he lights a fire to blow it sky high.
At home James continues doing what he can to make sure things go smoothly with Nootka Sound. Poor Brace is caught in the folds of the Delaney family mystery, and sees nothing ahead but tragedy. Simultaneously he watches James go through all the same things as his father Horace, speaking on a strange tongue and talking to ghosts. By himself, James comes across a paper from a stage show, the name Lorna Bow circled on the back.

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-8-14-26-pmOut on the town James goes to see Helga, he tells her about Winter. He susses out that Winter is Helga’s daughter, which is why she doesn’t rent the girl out. This is all a way for James to try bringing her into the fold, to help him gather intel: “Secrets to me are weapons.” Plus, he wants information on the man Winter told him of, the gent with the silver tooth. And off James goes, farther on his quest. He takes a look at the ship he’s purchased and sizes it up. Down below he feels the pull of memory take him  back to the ship he fled, the slave ship; and what other nastiness lies in those memories? Eager to find out. We get snippets of flashbacks to the ship; brief, sparse moments.
What grave sin has James committed? It’s something which haunts him, that’s all we know for sure.
He goes on trying to thwart the plot against his life. In a crude hospital he finds Dr. Dumbarton (Michael Kelly). He’s an interesting character – a doctor, a merchant, and a spy, so James says. This doesn’t impress the man. Soon James makes clear he wants help contacting the government of the United States, and hopes Dumbarton, an American, will facilitate this for him. I guess he won’t entertain the idea, as a gun comes out and James leaves rather than test the doctor’s trigger finger.
Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) receives a letter. Inside, a large piece of crystal (is it a diamond?). Hmm. Interesting. Across town, James meets with the lawyer Thoyt (Nicholas Woodeson), and lays things out on the table. “You are their whore,” he chastises Thoyt for passing information over to the EIC. And the spineless lawyer has nothing, only excuses and defeat.
Later they head over to the division of old man Delaney’s estate. Everything goes to James. this doesn’t sit well with anybody, least of which brother-in-law Thorne Geary (Jefferson Hall): “That legacy is your death sentence.” Surprising everybody, however, James brings money enough to pay off his father’s debts, making some of the men present happy. Then up turns a woman claiming she was Horace’s wife, Lorna Bow (Jessie Buckley). Even has the paperwork to prove it. Thoyt and James are taken quite off guard. Afterwards, the lawyer goes to see Sir Strange and the others, to whom he must confirm the legitimacy of Lorna’s marriage to Horace. They mull over what their opportunities are with this information. All roads lead again to the death of James Delaney.


The tension between James and his half-sister Zilpha is nearly unbearable. During a grand ball they lock eyes, though she is less thrilled about it, so it appears. Even their body language speaks of a more intimate relationship than just half-brother to half-sister. She feels the lure, yet clearly wants him away from her. “Did you really eat flesh?” Zilpha asks him; one of the many rumours about James and his time in Africa. For now they’re kept apart. I feel like this is simply another avenue in life that will possibly bring ruin to James Delaney. Because there are so many angles from which death and destruction come at him already, another one is bad.
Speaking too soon, as James heads out into the streets he’s finally attacked by a random assailant in the night. He’s stabbed in the guts, left to die in an alley. Not before he kills his would-be killer, biting a chunk from their neck in bloody chaos before slumping against a wall and passing out.
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What will become of Mr. Delaney?
I loved this episode, a fantastic follow-up to improve on the first one and makes things more intriguing. The writing from Steven Knight is excellent, as usual. He keeps a lot of nice stuff, plot-wise, close to the hip. Letting things unfold in a slow burn here is perfect for the mystery of James and his time in Africa. Can’t wait to see more. I anticipate there are many more conflicted feelings in regards to our anti-hero, and I’m hoping that Knight is headed where I think he’s headed with the story.

Taboo – Episode 1: “Shovels and Keys”

FX’s Taboo
Episode 1: “Shovels and Keys”
Directed by Kristoffer Nyholm
Written by Steven Knight

* For a recap & review of Episode 2, click here.
screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-11-33-44-amWe begin on the open ocean. From a ship in the water comes a boat. In it is a mysterious, hooded figure. They hit land and the figure digs something from out of the ground. He reveals himself as James Keziah Delaney (Tom Hardy). He pushes on to a city nearby where he goes to see a dead man; interesting that he takes the coins from the man’s eyes.
Forgive me, father. For I have indeed sinned,” James tells the corpse. Is this his own father? Or someone else close? I’d bet that’s old Mr. Delaney himself, though time will well.
Between these first scenes, the eerie music of the theme and its montage of bodies floating in the water, Taboo is off to a beautifully sinister start and I already need more.
screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-11-34-24-amLondon, 1814. The streets are alive with the sound of capitalism, and people are all doing various things to stay alive, stay fed. In the midst of the city a funeral procession goes on. Zilpha Geary (Oona Chaplin) ad Thorne Geary (Jefferson Hall) sit for the funeral of her father. At that very moment in walks James.  “There walks a dead man,” someone says, as Zilpha is mortified to see her brother. Another interesting note: James plunks the two coins from his father’s eyes into the collection at church. But there’s a dreadful air surrounding the man, everyone seems to fear him. Next to the grave James seems to be doing some semi-voodoo-type stuff, saying prayers in another language, wiping a red streak of ochre (or something similar) down from his eye like a tear. So much intrigue in such a short time.
Sneaking about while everyone drinks in the pub, James comes upon his father’s lawyer, Robert Thoyt (Nicholas Woodeson). Everyone believed James dead, except for his father, which everybody thought was a product of the madness inherent in whatever illness he suffered through until death. Thoyt tells James of his father’s last holding in America, although says the asset is worthless. Oh, is it now? Well, the male Delaney heir doesn’t buy into all that.
Thoyt: “If America were a pig facing England, it is right at the pigs ass.”
Dark things are brewing. Thorne doesn’t seem thrilled with James’ presence, nor with the prospect of his doing business in the wake of his father’s passing. Also, there’s a strange connection between James and his sister Zilpha; possibly an incestuous tone to their prior relationship. Hard to tell, but strongly suggested. Furthermore, James is a changed man since being in Africa, where all thought him lost. He sees everyone around him almost as a group of vile creatures.


In another, more upper class part of London, Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce) rejoices over old man Delaney’s death. He’s not exactly surprised to hear about the son turning up again. He’s already had Mr. Wilton (Leo Bill) try digging up dirt on James. His mother was mad. At 11, he was made a cadet for the East India Company; a “company boy” Strange says, wide-eyed. He reached the rank of Colonel, even. Then in 1800, he fought a lot, set fires, and a ton of other craziness. Said he knew where there was treasure in Africa. In 1802, he left for Africa on his own. He was on a slave ship at one point which sank; could be where we saw him in that first scene.
But now he’s back with business to conduct. This makes Strange and others nervous. They tried dealing with Zilpha, however, James’ return makes that pointless. Will they do something underhanded? Highly likely. Especially considering… the rumours, about James Keziah Delaney.
At his old family home James finds the caretaker, Brace (David Hayman); one of the very few happy to see him. They were, and still are, close. “In all this dirty city, there is no one I can trust, apart from you,” James tells his friend. We find out more of his father, too. That he was bad near the end. He’d crouch at the fire and speak in a strange language to James. I also want to know more of his mother. I wonder if she was from Africa, or somewhere else, because it seems there’s something further to her character than just simply being the mother; she has secrets, I believe. And James, he’s seen darkness, as well.


James starts going through his father’s things. In an old office of his family he finds Helga (Franka Potente) running a brothel out of the space. She offers half of her daily take to stay, and James isn’t interested. Back at the Geary household things aren’t so smooth, either. Thorne wishes his wife Zilpha would be firmer in hand with her brother. “Delaney is nothing more than a nigger now,” he says. I feel we’re going to see a bit of liberation on Zilpha’s part. Whether that’s a good thing is left to be seen. Because there’s a weird vibe between her and James to boot.
The rumours about James in Africa involve evil, witchcraft, all sorts of nasty stuff. There’s also a boy, I assume James’ brother, who was taken in by a family. And we see that there are other reasons Delaney feels the cold shoulder of people in London, not just due to whatever he did while in Africa.
Moreover, James is trying to figure out what happened to his father in the end. All the while fighting off the madness in his own head: “I have no fear to give you,” he rants to himself, walking through the morgue and speaking to corpses. Ghosts, all around him. Particularly an African man, chains around his wrists, bloody from the neck down; he approaches James, who soon repels him. Then back with his physician friend Dr. Powell (Michael Shaeffer), he discovers his father was poisoned.
James: “I know things about the dead
Poor Zilpha’s caught in such a hard, awful place. Her half-brother, returned from his macabre adventures, is making things difficult, as well as her husband Thorne pressing her into making the decisions he requires, lording over her like a maniac. There’s a determination in Zilpha, though. She won’t be pushed over, not entirely, even if it is the early 19th century.


James brings money to Ibbotson (Christopher Fairbank), who took care of the other Delaney boy while the father went mad and James went about his business elsewhere. So, is that his brother, or could it be his son?  Hmm. There’s a gorgeously textured number of layers already in this story, and I feel that this first episode is putting them out in front of us with grace. This should stretch out nicely over the series’ 8 episodes.
Up at the East India Company, James goes to talk with Sir Strange and his brethren. An uneasy meeting, for sure. They all treat him as if he were a mythic figure out of a book. “Do not pretend,” James tells them plainly. They want to talk about Nootka Sound, where old man Delaney’s last property bought from the Natives lies; a point of contention between “His Majestys government and the cursed United States.” What’s fun is that James knows much more than any of these stuffy old bastards ever imagined possible. He has quite a grasp on all that’s happening in terms of geopolitical plans and strategies coming down the pipes. He realises Nootka Sound (a sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island) will become extremely valuable, both to the British and certainly to the Americans. So the bribe comes out. And that doesn’t interest James any more than the rest of it. Sir Strange gets angry, and the look on the faces of the others spells quite the story, as James rises calmly to leave. Now they’re left with only other options. None of which will come to pass without lots of blood.


At home, James receives a letter from Zilpha. She wants the “secrets of the past buried” and now we see she and James are on two different ends of the spectrum.
What exactly will he do from here?
I, for one, am damn excited to watch more.
screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-12-31-13-pmWhat a great opening episode. Honestly, I expected a lot, and for me this one delivered. Great involvement of artists, from Tom Hardy (and his father Edward ‘Chips’ Hardy), to Steven Knight, to Jonathan Pryce, and of course director Kristoffer Nyholm on this first episode.
So much to come. Join me, as we take a ride with James Keziah Delaney into the dark, gritty spaces of London, and beyond!

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is a Dystopian Vision of Not-So-Distant Future

Brazil. 1985. Directed by Terry Gilliam. Screenplay by Gilliam, Charles McKeown, & Tom Stoppard.
Starring Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin, Ian Richardson, Peter Vaughan, Kim Greist, Jim Broadbent, Barbara Hicks, Charles McKeown, Derrick O’Connor, Kathryn Pogson, Bryan Pringle, & Shella Reid. Embassy International Pictures.
Rated R. 132 minutes.
Drama/Sci-Fi

★★★★★
POSTER
Merriam-Webster defines the word ‘bureaucracy’ as the following: 1) a large group of people who are involved in running a government but who are not elected; 2) a system of government or business that has many complex rules, an administrative policy-making group; 3) government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, and a hierarchy of authority.
Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is the filmic epitome of a not-so-far off future, nearly a dystopian present, where bureaucracy has created such a perfectly tailored society for the upper echelons that they can do just about anything they want, to whomever they please. What Gilliam does so well is expose the saccharine sweet surface of such a society, as a disturbingly rotten core lies further at its core. Since my dad introduced me to them at a early age Monty Python have always been a big influence on me. Partly a reason why when Gilliam made films on his own, they intrigued me immediately. At a young age I also saw his movie The Fisher King, and that had a tremendous impact on me, both due to the whole story and plot, as well as the fact Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams did fantastic jobs in the lead roles.
However, with all the great work he’s done in cinema it is always Brazil to which I return, that always keeps me coming back and wanting more. It’s funny because, as great an actor Jonathan Pryce is, I’ve never considered him a leading man; more a supporting guy, even a character actor at times. Yet here, he is perfect. It’s as if all pistons were pumping, every thing in its right place, and this masterpiece of dystopian film fiction came to us in all its quirky, unabashedly strange glory.
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The bureaucracy is utterly skewered by this screenplay. And while it’s right there, so open, that doesn’t make it any less funny. An entire system is made out to be incredibly inept through all the different departments, the divisional hierarchy making one hand completely unaware of what the other is doing. What’s so great is that Gilliam, Charles McKeown, and Tom Stoppard do their own thing, but much of their madness also does feel Kafkaesque at times. From the beginning mix up between Buttle and Tuttle that causes a man to, eventually, lose his life, to the various fuck arounds Sam has to through, there is no shortage of incredibly wild existential grief. One thing I’ve always loved is that the bureaucracy is epitomized in the fact there’s no Orwellian figure at the top, the hierarchy goes nowhere. It’s a perfect little touch. Not only that, there’s a vaguely futuristic, sci-fi element to the entire production, yet the story feels extremely contemporary rather than something being predicted. That truly aids the entire movie, as it feels like this bureaucratic, totalitarian society is just one step away. Especially when you watch it now, as the U.S. Presidential campaign is underway, getting zanier, more dystopian than possibly ever before at times. Even in ’85, Gilliam put this out there at the right time, as people like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were running their respective countries and things, though sold in a pretty package, were looking quite bleak underneath the political rhetoric and doublespeak.
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Spoiler Alert: Do not go on if you haven’t actually finished the film, or else be spoiled.
Ultimate irony, though dreamily, ends with Tuttle (De Niro) eventually being swallowed up by paperwork; the very thing he’d earlier told Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) was a reason why he hated the system nowadays. I love a lot of the imagery like this. Sam goes to help Tuttle only to find nothing in the mound of papers that seemed to be choking him. This entire sequence during the finale is actually something I remember seeing on Showcase, a Canadian channel, years ago. For some reason Brazil was on in the late afternoon, I’d landed on the channel after school. I caught the last few minutes or so right after Tuttle disappears, so out of context it looked like absolute insanity. It was creepy. Years later when I was seventeen or eighteen, I tracked this down and watched the whole thing. Then it went on to be one of my favourite films, ever. But those crazy moments with the casket, the eerie masks, all that stuff, it stuck with me. Because you finally get a look totally beneath the mask of that society. The rotten core is visible, fully. We still see bits of the sweet slip in, only Lowry is hallucinating, off in the Brazil of his mind, as the physical body remains back in the dingy, dark tomb-like auditorium where he’s likely to waste away.
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The world of Brazil is part camp, part visionary, part horrific. A 5-star bit of dystopian fiction on film. Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python brain comes together with an even more sophisticated sense of satire resulting in one of my picks for best films of all-time. Absolutely on my top list. The acting is terrific, from Jonathan Pryce to the fantastic Ian Holm and equally awesome Robert De Niro everybody pulls their weight, and then some. The set designs, the dream sequences, all of it is just downright perfect. At the same time it’s liable to give you nightmares remembering those creepy fat faced masks. To this day I’ll have a bad dream where those faces show up. Seeing it so randomly on television when I was young it always crept into my brain when least expected. But after actually watching it through, many times and on Criterion at that, Brazil has presented itself as one of the more chilling and daringly accurate visions of a near future that I’ve personally seen onscreen.