Category Archives: Taboo FX River Rants

I love the immersive, gritty aesthetic of the show

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Sorry, this email is so late. I’ve had a lot of thoughts lately but very little time. First, I would like to thank you for turning me on to this show. I am truly enjoying it. I stumbled upon your show completely by accident. I’m not much a fan of fantasy or sci-fi but enjoy historically placed stories. I was an ASOIAF reader who became a GOT viewer. In the wake of season 6, there was a hole that I needed to fill so I turned to Westworld. Though not my native genre, I found it enjoyable enough but also quite confusing since the subject matter was so far out of my normal wheelhouse. It is at this point that I stumbled upon your podcasts and used your discussion and insights to enhance my enjoyment and stimulate my intellectual investment in the themes. I first heard of Taboo from you guys and have really been enjoying the journey. I was pleased when I saw the first opening credits and realized the show had some top notch actors from GOT as well as it’s superb casting director. I have not been disappointed on that account.

I would characterize myself as a pretty laid back viewer. If I generally enjoy a story or a theme, I don’t tend to hyper-analyze and nitpick faults. Too many glaring issues with a story (inconsistencies, pace problems, etc.), and I will generally just tune out. I have little free time as a solo parent so I want to spend that time relaxing and immersing myself in something that engages me. Podcasts like yours allow me to extend my enjoyment of the story by listening to discussions which expose me to different insights, perspectives, and theories during the monotonous moments of my day, like the commute to work or the never ending chore of doing dishes. Thank you for that.

I love the immersive, gritty aesthetic of the show. I’ve always been a fan of intense realism with an edge of exaggeration. I’m ashamed to admit that I did not know who Tom Hardy was prior to watching this (though I guess I had seen him before in other things.) I don’t follow entertainment news and have little free time to go to the movies or watch Netflix. I have truly enjoyed his performance but wonder if that would be tempered by other roles he has played. I find the acting superb.

The thoughts I wanted to share are a bit scattered, but you guys have really gotten me thinking!! I appreciate your analysis and insights as I have found them to have much more depth than others I have heard.

Madness
Your discussion of episode 6 really got me thinking about the shows subtext on madness or insanity. Your suggestion regarding James’ mother’s motives for attempting to “drown” him was one of the most sensible and sensitive I heard. It caused me to really analyze the shows exploration of “crazy.” Starting with Horace who it is believed went crazy before his death only to find out it was a side-effect of the poisoning. Then you have Zilpha, hearing voices and killing her husband, but to what extent is this the result of physical and psychological abuse? Then you have Anna, also thought to have gone crazy, but on your show you raised the very really possibility that this wasn’t crazy so much as cultural difference that wasn’t understood. And of course James, the “devil.” Some see him as crazy or evil but, again, is this just difference or that which is not understood? I just feel the show is making some kind of a statement on this.

Color Symbolism
This is a very dark world so when a particular color stands out, it really makes me wonder what it could mean. As this is not uncommon in literature, I’m curious of what Gene thinks of this. I was actually surprised it wasn’t mentioned in your podcast of episode 7 since Lorna stood out in such stark contrast on the beach during Winter’s memorial/funeral with her red dress and red hair against a gloomy gray beach & sky and with all other actors in dark, muted colors.

Winter
To me it was obvious why Winter’s death was upsetting to so many people. Not only did she represent an innocence and openness not really seen anywhere else in the show, but, on some level, I believe she represented the viewer. By that I mean that the story has been crafted around James. He is our protagonist. The viewer is put in the position to embrace and champion him. Even when he does something awful, we assume there is justification for the act even if it hasn’t be revealed yet. Most characters in the show have great disdain for James. Many would prefer him dead. He is viewed as the “devil” or crazy, the wayward son. Even Brace and Lorna approached him with a self-preserving skepticism. Winter did not. She was open to him from day one. With a childlike innocence, she was drawn to this curious man. In her first encounter with him, she actually asks him to take her to America, a prospect that other characters would have found frightening. The structure of the story positions the viewer to embrace James in the same way that Winter does – with an openness, innocence, and curiosity.

Why Watch?
I believe my interest in this show has been maintained because of the mystery of James’ motivations. There are few clues as to his endgame, particularly because of his muted effect. The more we learn about his life experiences, the more we understand this behavior. Early on, it appeared he may want to find out who killed his dad. We quickly learned he had much bigger goals in mind. Seven episodes in and we still don’t know what he is after or even which particular motivation is driving him. Along with this, I find the mystery of Lorna’s true purpose tantalizing. Who is she, really? She is in the middle of everything. Why? James has been curious from the beginning, but she has slowly emerged as someone who is not what she seems. Her strength when taken into custody was a surprise but I think her act of wading through the river to the duel was the first sign that there was more going on here. I believe she has taken the role of protecting James for some reason. Whatever the case, it is abundantly clear that she is much more than an actress.

Premonitions
I am completely convinced that James knows how he will die. I can’t say I understand how he has this knowledge, but it seems clear to me that he does. He wades into dangerous situations without the slightest concern. He seems to know he won’t die in the duel, tells Lorna he won’t hang (since he knows his manner of death,) calmly waits for Helga to stop shooting at him before turning and walking away, and is unconcerned that the torture may go too far and kill him. I do not read this as him being unconcerned about death because he clearly has an objective he is determined to achieve. I can think of no other way to explain the behavior.

Season end
In response to your question about whether or not I believe James will die at the end of the season, I am leaning towards “no.” That said, I feel the show may give us a non-answer by making it unclear whether he lives or die. This type of ending not only leaves open the possibility for a season two, but also is consistent with the ambiguous, gray tone of the show. As an alternative to this (or possibly in concert with this), I’m afraid Lorna may come to James’ rescue in some way as part of a reveal of who she really is. I say “afraid,” because this is a bit overused as a storytelling device and, if not done very carefully, could cheapen the story. Thanks again for adding so much to my experience of this show.

Take care,

Sharon H
Texas

Why Dumbarton didn’t panic

Taboo FX River Rant
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I think it’s important to consider the doctor’s personal experience with James and torture. After the street assassination attempt nearly killed him we find out the good doctor had him followed to see if the British empire/EIC really wanted him dead. After crudely sewing James’ knife wound Dumbarton tries to obtain information from him by means of extreme pain. Delany plays along just to have the doctor comment that he takes pain like a stone and then discovers that he wants a tea monopoly and that he was basically playing along and enduring the torture by choice.

I believe that when Dumbarton says he will not leave until his colors are their appropriately American hues, a moment of dialogue I found poignant, that he knows that his identity is safe because no amount of pain will get James to break and talk to the crown.


David Essen Lütz

Some thoughts on James (Taboo)

Taboo FX River Rant
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Hi guys,

Here are my thoughts on the James/Zilpha relationship as I understand it. They had a relationship and lust obsession with each other, which was when James was sent away originally. With that unresolved, it only grew for both in James’s absence. That obsession while apart is something to feel guilty and sinful about, and they projected that fault onto a psych bound between them. As James said, he used to believe they were the same person. When his sister kills her husband and says James told her to do it, James realizes he didn’t do that, and the illusion is broken for him and he sees the relationship for what it actually is. He is still in denial, though, so still tries to have sex with her. When they start having sex, the broken illusion becomes now apparent to him, and he can’t go through with it, knowing now this relationship and connection isn’t real, and actually ultimately unhealthy for both of them. This is all happening with a backdrop of James starting to develop feelings for Laurena Bow -while technically a new taboo (falling in love with your stepmother) is actually potentially a more healthy relationship.

My thoughts on James seemingly being invulnerable is that it is based on his belief (or fact) that he has foreseen his own death and is therefore unworried about other threats, or maybe his own belief (or fact) that he can’t be killed because he has already died and can’t be killed again until a certain time or event has happened – James says to Zilpha that they don’t have much time left.

That’s all! Thanks,
Jamie