We are halfway through the miniseries Taboo, which I must confess is interesting me rather more than (shock! horror!) Victoria. There is certainly much to criticize about Taboo, like its ouroboros-shaped plot (Delaney is doing...what now? And he's suborning this person because...why? And all this is to...some purpose?), but, as a number of other ambivalent viewers have noted, it's surprisingly absorbing in the moment. It's too bad that I'm not teaching a Gothic course this semester, though, because if I were, I would suggest that my students have a look at it. Taboo, I'd argue, is another update of the imperial Gothic, in a manner more than slightly reminiscent of Lloyd Shepherd's novels. Its evil anti-hero, James Delaney, is a Byronic character (complete with incestuous passion for his half-sister) who exerts a powerful, mesmeric influence on anyone he chooses to manipulate; as episode four makes explicit (in more ways than one, shall we say), he has mysterious powers that he acquired in Africa and/or inherited from his dead mother Salish, a member of the Nootka tribe brought back to England by his now also-dead father, Horace. (Significantly, Horace came across his second wife, the actress Lorna Bow, in a play called The Painted Savage--the lost indigenous wife, mysteriously driven to madness [by England itself? we don't know yet], gives way to a far more comfortably English version.) Both James' background and the manner of his initial disappearance--thought lost while aboard a slave ship--raise questions about imperial violence and its recoil upon England itself, literalized in James' return from exile in Africa. James is given to moments of shocking violence--tearing out one assassin's throat with his teeth, eviscerating another one like an animal--that punctuate his eerily affectless demeanor; but at both ends of the violence/control spectrum, he merely offers up a funhouse mirror to the Big Bad Trio, the Americans, the East India Company, and the British Crown. Despite all the whispers about James' "unspeakable" practices, he is hardly more unspeakable than the unbelievably grotesque Prince Regent (Mark Gatiss under an eye-popping makeup job), the foul-mouthed and murderous head of the EIC, Sir Stuart Strange, or the various conniving Yanks. There's not much civilization on view at the heart of the British empire or its former colonies.