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Taboo - Episode 8 - Season 1 Finale - Review

26 Feb 2017

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Taboo came to an end last night the only way it really could have: by destroying the foundations on which its entire first season was built. By the end of this eventful finale almost all of what has driven the show's plot up until now is no longer a factor. Zilpha's suicide put an end to the show's primary romantic subplot. James' war with the Crown ended with a literal battle in the streets. His war with the East India Company came to an end first with a wary truce and then with the surprise death of Sir Stuart Strange. And the "leak" was revealed to be Dumbarton, who meets his own grisly end in the episode.

Really, all of this felt like a natural, and necessary, conclusion to the season. While I've liked Taboo more than a lot of critics, I do acknowledge some of its issues, mainly the general murkiness of its plot, in particular that related to James' attempts to navigate the treacherous geopolitical landscape of the time in his attempt to retain Nootka Sound. While not flawed in conception, ofttimes the execution of this plot was lacking in a clear sense of direction.

That began to change in last week's penultimate chapter, and that trend only continued in this finale, which contained a narrative momentum the likes of which Taboo hadn't really attempted before. Max Richter's score near-constant throughout the hour, this episode moved at a brisk pace, as the pieces of James' elaborate (perhaps too elaborate, as I touched on last week) fell into place. While the fact that James seemed to plan for every eventuality (with the exception of Zilpha's death) could have been frustrating, instead I found myself riveted, perhaps mainly due to satisfaction that the show was tying its various plot threads together in such exhilarating and explosive fashion.

Zilpha's death was perhaps the one aspect of this finale that I'm unsure about. While it certainly makes sense given what we know of the character, I can't help but feel a little unsatisfied by her arc over the course of the season. While the show has certainly not shied away from her obvious mental instability, I feel like there was probably more to explore with that character. Oona Chaplin's wonderfully restrained performance will also mean Zilpha will be missed going forward.

Really, that's what this finale was about: moving forward, onto something better. America, and the promise of freedom and prosperity. From the moment Nootka Sound was mentioned, a journey across the Atlantic seemed inevitable for the show, and as the season progressed, the prospect seemed more and more exciting, coming at the right time, just as the series' London setting seemed to be getting a little tired.

James' attempts to get himself and his loyal band of misfits onto his new ship also led to a thrilling action sequence, which saw the city streets temporarily turned into a battleground. The sequence was especially impressive given the relatively low-budget the show was likely working with at the time. But what really surprised me about the episode's final act was how much I found myself invested in the outcome. With the exception of James, the series hasn't really made much of an effort to develop many of the characters. Yet during the battle I found myself caring if Lorna or Atticus or Cholmondeley made it out alive. And while this is almost entirely due to the fact that each are played by very charismatic and likable actors, that doesn't make the idea of seeing more of them any less exciting.

Grade: A-
Season Grade: B+

Well, that's it for Taboo season 1. While future seasons have yet to be announced, the people behind the show seem confident that they'll get two more to finish telling their story. Given that the ratings are solid (especially on the BBC) and the fact that it's an international co-production, I'm not too concerned about the show's future, though given Tom Hardy's busy schedule, it may be a while before we see more of it. I, for one, will be watching, and depending on how things pan out, I might even review it. I was intrigued by Taboo from the beginning, and over the course of this season I like the show more and more. Is it perfect? Of course not, but I can't say I haven't enjoyed it. Thank you all for reading along with these reviews. It's been a blast.