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!

A Modern-Looking Wild West in Revenge Western The Salvation

The Salvation. 2014. Directed by Kristian Levring. Screenplay by Anders Thomas Jensen & Kristian Levring.
Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Eric Cantona, Mikael Persbrandt, Douglas Henshall, Michael Raymond- James, Jonathan Pryce, Alexander Arnold, Nanna Øland Fabricius, Toke Lars Bjarke, and Sean Cameron Michael. Zentropa Entertainments/Forward Films/Spier Films/F.I.L.M.S./Det Danske Filminstitut/Danmarks Radio (DR)/Nordisk Film & TV Fond/Film i Väst/Department of Trade & Industry of South Africa/MEDIA Programme of the European Union/Nordisk Film Distribution/TrustNordisk. Rated PG. 92 minutes.
Drama/Western

★★★★★
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I haven’t had a chance to see Kristian Levring’s Fear Me Not, starring one of my favourite actors Ulrich Thomsen. So prior to The Salvation, I’d never experienced any of his films. Two reasons I came to this film: i) it’s a Western with Mads Mikkelsen, & ii) Anders Thomas Jensen co-wrote the screenplay with Levring; I am a huge admirer of Jensen’s films, all of which feature Mikkelsen (Flickering LightsAdam’s ApplesThe Green Butchers, & most recent Men & Chicken), as well as the fact he’s written other great movies like the fabulous and touching In a Better World.
For a long time I’ve loved Westerns. There are a flood of them out there. Although, if you search through them well enough all the cream will rise to the top. The classics will always reign on high, such as Once Upon a Time in the WestThe SearchersHigh Noon, The Man with No Name Trilogy; then we’ve got the more contemporary, now classics like UnforgivenThe PropositionTombstone, and in my mind The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. So there are no shortage of Westerns, nor is there a lack of masterpieces in the genre. That being said, there are many typical Westerns, cliched to bits. Others, while not bad movies, just seem uninspired.
Along comes The Salvation. This film, from screenplay to actual screen, takes on the Western in familiar tones. But all the same, Levring and Jensen’s script tackles a Western revenge tale with an innovative twist, fresh eyes, and from a very emotional standpoint. Not to mention there are plenty of ways you can parallel this tale of the supposed American Dream in the minds of foreigners to the struggle many face today. This is a great film, it is beautiful to look at. Above all else, the actors each play a huge part in making the film come alive and raise the bar for the modern Western genre.
016Danish-American settler Jon Jensen (Mads Mikkelsen) has been in the Land of the Free for a while now. He and his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt) have learned the language, they’ve tended their own land and looked out for one another. Plus, they seem to be integrated into the community. However, things change drastically for Jon especially once his wife Marie (Nanna Øland Fabricius) and son Kresten (Toke Lars Bjarke) finally come to live there with him.
Upon their arrival, Jon takes his family by coach back to their home. Along the way, two men, Paul (Michael Raymond-James) and Voichek (Alex Arnold), accost Jon and his family. The conversation starts as only that, conversation, but the tone changes soon enough and the two strangers take Jon’s wife/boy hostage. Kicked out of the coach, he tries to run after them. Jon comes across the murdered corpse of his son. Then further down the road, he finds the coach – one man rapes his wife while the other takes watch outside.
After taking his violent revenge against the murderous rapists, Jon finds himself at odds with the local gangster Henry Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), whose brother happens to be the aforementioned Paul. When the entire town turns their back on Jon, only his brother Peter stands by his side. That is, until Delarue’s men do the unthinkable to him, as well.
Standing against the insurmountable forces of Delarue and his henchmen, Jon Jensen is forced to take arms in order to have his revenge, or die in the process.
the-salvation-text1If you’re not immediately floored by the whole opening sequence (about the first 20 minutes), then I’m not sure what would affect your sensibilities. Fact is, without showing too much director Kristian Levring creates so much suspense, a thick and undeniably nasty tension, which drew me into the film’s world so savagely it honestly took me awhile afterwards to come back to my senses. Not only is the direction great, as well as the writing between Levring and Jensen, Mads Mikkelsen – a long time favourite of mine since his turn in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher & Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands and recently his work as Hannibal Lecter on NBC’s unusually amazing series – performs his character’s anger and woe so subtly it’s impossible to turn away from the power. I’m not trying to pit American v. European v. anywhere else actors here, not at all. However, there are certainly some (North) American actors who come to mind that are very exuberant, almost too much so at times. Especially when it comes to revenge styled movies, such as this one. For instance, even though I’m a Sean Penn fan (as an actor; not so much as a person), and I love his turn in the movie, Mystic River contains a pretty wild performance out of him – not at all times, though, in some scenes he is very much going heavy. Whereas in The Salvation, right out the gate, Mikkelsen delivers so much intensity and heartache without having to do anything overtly emphatic. He simply acts with all the emotion in him available, just seeping it out of his skin; the look on his face, his body language, the bunch of bullets he pumps into his family’s killer even after the guy is dead. And like I said, these are only the first 20 minutes (19 and a half if we’re getting specific). From there on in, Mikkelsen has lots more to do, and does it to near perfection.
Then we’ve also got Jeffrey Dean Morgan, whose performance as the big bad in this Western comes as a surprise to some. Not to me, though. Even while I’m not a huge fan of the Watchmen adaptation (it’s real good; just not as good as it should/could have been), Morgan impressed me as The Comedian. Also, my girlfriend watched a bit of Supernatural, and I found him pretty good in that. Then in the mediocre movie Texas Killing Fields, he was one of the only things I actually enjoyed a nice deal. But some people seem him as this good guy type. Maybe I’ve not watched enough of Morgan to feel that way. I see him as a guy with a dark side, even though I think he has good range. So here, in The Salvation, I was pleased to see him in a truly outright bad guy role. It doesn’t take long to figure him out, but not in a transparent way – you just feel how mean the dude is, right from his first appearance. It only gets more unpredictable and even more nasty once Morgan shows us how brutish his character Henry Delarue can become, to what level he’ll sink. Again, though, I have to say Delarue isn’t someone I could predict. There’s a moment, just before the half-hour mark (so much intensity so early), where you’ll understand exactly what I mean: I saw parts of it coming, but how he ends this confrontation is spectacularly harsh, and I couldn’t have imagined he was so cold. Not only is Delarue a bad, low man, he does have a tough presence, one of both physical and mental strength. It all sets the stage for an excellent showdown coming between Mikkelsen’s Jon Jensen and Morgan’s Henry Delarue.
salvation2Apart from the acting, Levring’s direction is what makes this film so special. Cinematographer Jens Schlosser provides us with lush visuals, from the wide open plains of the old West to the tighter, more personal scenes involving the characters and the well written dialogue of this screenplay. Schlosser has worked with Levring before on Fear Me Not, as well as served as Director of Photography on Amy Berg’s excellent/heartbreaking documentary Deliver Us from Evil (see it: an important piece of work). I find this one of the most visually exciting Western movies in recent times. John Hillcoat’s The Proposition is another amazing to look at Western from the last decade, though, that one has a gritty, more rough aesthetic. Regardless, I think this movie’s visual beauty has much to do with the emotional intensity and darkness of the subject matter/the performances. There’s a perfect contrast between how pretty the movie is and how devastating its plot and story are, it is a masterful bit of work from every angle.
Once more, I mention the script. So many revenge films are the same, just as Westerns often end up seeming after you’ve seen a ton. While The Salvation is typical in certain senses (rape-revenge setup), there are many ways in which it is not. For instance, like I mentioned earlier in my review, Levring doesn’t go and show everything full-on. Yes, much of the violence is pretty well spelled out in front of us. But I think the early bits, the rape of Jon’s wife, the murder of his boy, they were handled very well. I was very much expecting us to have to actually see Paul/Voichek humping Jon’s poor wife. Though, instead we get to see most of the after effects. This movie doesn’t glorify sexual violence, even if rape is at its core as a plot device/element. The effects and the revenge are the main point, that’s why everything brutal and nastily violent comes so early; literally, the first twenty minutes gets almost all of it out of the way, in terms of the injustice done to Jon’s family. We get lots of violent stuff after this point. Simply, it’s notable how Levring/Jensen go a different route than most would in this case. They still stick very much to the rape-revenge model, they’re just not relying on all its tropes and cliched moves to make things work. Furthermore, setting this is all in the context of Danish settler in America v. “born n’ bred” Americans is an interesting aspect, which you’re not always going to see except in a few other choice films of the genre. All in all, I’m amazed with the screenplay because I found myself unsure exactly of how things were heading to play out. Best part of the plot and story of The Salvation is how subversive it came across at times.
1280x720-mPeWith a big Wild West showdown near the end that can rival some of the best, The Salvation is most definitely a 5 star film. It has guts, plus brains. Even better, the directing from Kristian Levring downplays the usual focus on the rape in order to get to the revenge. Instead, he opts to show us the savagery of the revenge at the other end on top of the heightened emotions from all the characters involved. And at times you’ll find yourself wondering exactly what is about to happen next. With the stellar performance of Mads Mikkelsen in the lead role, alongside Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Eva Green and Mikael Persbrandt in awesome roles respectively, this is a Western you can’t afford to miss. It has all the greatness of any other revenge-thriller, the heart and soul of a perfect drama. Not to mention it’s one of the best Westerns of the last two decades.