Tom Hardy’s new miniseries has had an intriguing and bewildering ad campaign. The commercials overlay quotes like “I know things about the dead” over images of Hardy, tattooed and shirtless. He prowls around in a top hat and billowing coat with a growling voice like a Dickensian Bane. So what gives? What’s with the shirtless images of Hardy, covered in paint and doing vaguely supernatural-looking things?
Here’s what we know: Hardy’s character James Delaney is a 19th century adventurer who has returned to London from a stint in Africa. This surprises and displeases just about everyone, as he was presumed dead and has inherited his father’s shipping empire. He proceeds to spar both verbally and physically with a cast of characters including haughty businessmen, street thugs with face tattoos, and snarky brothel owners. Half of these ne’er-do-wells are played by Game of Thrones alums like the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), Mace Tyrell (Roger Ashton-Griffiths), and Talisa Stark (Oona Chaplin).
In the first few episodes, Taboo keeps its cards close to its chest about both Delaney’s backstory and the extent to which it will dip into the supernatural. On a supernatural level, he’s shown speaking a mysterious tongue that another character later refers to as, “a language like ravens fighting.” He sports thick black lines of tribal tattoos all over his body — chest, neck, upper thighs. At various points, he has visions of a ghostly woman decked out in her own paint. He hangs ceremonial beads and chants.
Voodoo does indeed involve belief in connection with the spirit world, which is often misunderstood as demonic in Christian theology. Similarly, when he returns to English society, Delaney is trailed by rumors that he’s “mad” and “savage.” There are indeed zombies in the Vodoo belief system, but it’s often misunderstood. Their main similarity to the brain-eating monsters of George Romero films is simply a return from the dead. In that regard, Delaney is metaphorically a zombie, as he’s returned from the dead, but the show has yet to confirm whether he’s a literal zombie.
You’ll like it if you dig shows like Penny Dreadful, Peaky Blinders, and Black Sails. Ultimately, the spiritual and supernatural elements seem to be connected to his mysterious mother. In that regard, while it certainly seems to draw inspiration from Voodoo, Taboo is spinning its own unique story.
Taboo premieres on January 10 on FX.