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Taboo - Episode 4 - Review

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Tonight's episode of Taboo saw the show truly embrace its pulpier aspects, resulting in an hour that moved far more quickly than those preceding it. Taboo's ambitions to be a dark, brooding character piece sometimes clouds its more mainstream appeal. After all, the show is about one guy going up against an all-powerful and corrupt establishment (making the show resonant in today's frustrating political climate), while trying to win back the girl he loves at the same time.

For lack of a better word, this episode felt less pretentious than previous installments, as the show continued the trend that began last week by focusing more and more on plot. In this episode the show seemed to truly realize the inherent fun at the heart of its premise, which it had previously partially subdued with a heavier atmosphere. The idea of one mysterious guy gathering a team of deviants and undesirables, those looked down upon by high society, to f*ck over the very wealthy is thrilling, and with each passing episode Taboo is embracing that more and more.

Continuing with the theme of class that the show is so clearly interested in exploring, it's still having a lot of fun contrasting the superficially beautiful upper class communities of London and the grimy, base conditions in which James and his recent hires find themselves frequenting most. This is seen in the episode's final act, which not only explored this contrast by juxtaposing a fancy party with a robbery, but by placing James at said gala.

The party that closed the episode was fantastic not just for how well shot it was, but for how it allowed viewers to see James in a different light. By putting its protagonist in an environment in which he was clearly out of his depth, Taboo portrayed James in a more vulnerable light than it ever has before, effectively capturing his sense of unease throughout the entire last twenty minutes or so.

However, while this episode sees James at perhaps his most emotionally vulnerable, when he is physically vulnerable we see another side to him entirely, as seen in the assassination attempt in the middle of the episode, which was later confirmed to be engineered by the Americans, in particular Countess Musgrove aka Carlsbad. This scene was brutally efficient in its violence, and by momentarily switching perspectives from James to the near-dead assassin towards the end, we saw James at his most terrifying.

This episode did see some more movement plot-wise, as it's now clear the Americans are aware of James and Zilpha and are poised to exploit that weakness. James insists that Lorna is a weakness, yet Zilpha clearly presents the easiest form of leverage for his enemies. Also, presuming that James accepts Thorne's challenge to a duel, we could soon be seeing the last of Zilpha's loving husband, a death I'm sure all viewers of the show will mourn.

Apart from some movement on the supernatural side of things (it seems James can, via some form of mysticism, have sex with Zilpha in her dreams), this episode saw the addition of yet another great character actor to the show's cast, with the introduction of Tom Hollander as a chemist who partakes in the consumption of nitrous-oxide and who also eats sh*t, though purely for professional reasons. Given that this episode mainly saw the show's dark yet satirical tone step aside in favour of something pulpier and more straight-forward, Hollander's bizarrely hilarious presence was welcome.

Grade: A-

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