This penultimate episode of Taboo’s first season sees our hero James Delaney (Tom Hardy) lurch forth and sideways in a lot of key areas. Firstly, though, is Winter’s memorial. Winter’s mother Helga (Franka Potente, The Bourne Identity) and Delaney’s enforcer Atticus (Stephen Graham, Snatch) are among the few attendees, with Delaney (rightly) opting to watch the procession from afar, pretending only to be looking for ships (have a heart there, Jim). Ultimately, we soon discover that Delaney did not kill Winter (no major shock there), however such a revelation does not resonate with Helga. In fact, when Delaney approaches her (presumably to clear the air), Helga shoots his hat off, then fires another round just beside him. Simply put, Helga is, understandably, having none of it. In addition to being her daughter, Winter was a sweet and kind soul and one of the few beacons of light and hope in Helga’s life (and this tale, it must be said). Her blood is on Delaney’s hands regardless.
Given Helga’s fury, Delaney concludes that she will ultimately betray his secrets to the East India Company (EIC). Specifically, he banks on the fact that she’ll advise the EIC that he’s been colluding with American spies for his own version of a “gunpowder plot”. For clarity, Delaney has been supplying the Americans with gunpowder in exchange for their protection, as a means to ensure his safe passage to Nootka Sound. Nootka Sound is a small, yet pivotal, piece of land bequeathed to Delaney in his father’s will. Whoever owns Nootka Sound is guaranteed a monopoly over the tea trade with China, the upshot of which is untold riches. If Delaney is found guilty of treason, all his assets are transferred to England, which is what the EIC and the Prince Regent (Mark Gatiss, Sherlock) are both gunning for – each for their own selfish reasons. Yes, this is a complex affair told (mostly) via a series of horrible, greedy and grumpy old men meeting in shadows and betraying one another regularly in order to clamour for riches. Same as it ever was…
With such a sombre and convoluted tale, balance and clarity are key, and Taboo continues to impress in its capabilities of portraying such heavy, intense storylines and arcs with such precision. Not for nothing, but with all that is going on (and with the body count piling up), the show inexplicable – yet excellently – becomes easier to digest and understand. We are way past the point of no return with the series, however it is pleasing to note that the investment has been more than worthwhile.
Back to Jim, and he nails his predictions regarding Helga, and the EIC board positively rejoice in her retelling of Delaney’s master plans. “We f***ing have him,” cackles Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce, Game of Thrones), and the whole room erupts. “He will be cut to pieces”. They are more than satisfied that they’ve now got enough to pin Delaney for treason. Helga smiles in acknowledgement, feeling as though her actions will somehow avenge Winter’s death. Such feelings are short-lived are short live, however, as she is informed that she’s to be taken into custody for her part in the plan and will be offered immunity for her testimony. That’s the thing about getting into bed with snakes, dear Helga.
There are three remaining plotlines to this episode, the first being that Delaney’s despondent housekeeper Brace (David Hayman, The Paradise) is, in fact, the one who poisoned Delaney’s father (Horace) to death with arsenic. “It was a kindness; we couldn’t go on, James.” “But you did,” Delaney replies. “You came back too late. For both of us,” weeps Brace. Understandably, given who he’s confessing to, Brace braces (see what I did there?) for the worst. He is given mercy. James largely kills the conversation by telling Brace to tend to the kitchen, where Lorna (Jessie Buckley, War and Peace) is creating quite the mess while attempting to pluck a duck. The relationship between these three is hardly “Three’s Company”, however it does offer its own oddly amusing side plot. Within this same passage, yet too brief to be a major storyline for this week, is Delaney’s backflip on his sister/lover Zilpha (Oona Chaplin, Game of Thrones). Delaney concludes that they are no longer suitable, quipping, “I believed once that we were the same person.” He dismisses her interruptions and objections, further insulting her by giving her a diamond out of pity for her newfound “widowhood”. Convenient that you waited until she murdered her husband before deciding as much, Jim. Cold.
The next plotline relates to solicitor Chichester (Lucian Msamati, Luther), who is still pushing hard towards the EIC with his investigation into the sunken slave ship. In discussions with Delaney, Chichester is shown to know a great deal about a great many things, including that Delaney was first a slave, then slave master, upon the ship, and also that Sir Stu Strange had a lot to do with the slaving and the sinking. Delaney, literally playing chess with humans now, has Chichester speak with his own pawn, that of Godfrey the cross-dressing EIC board member/deserter. Godfrey informs Chichester of what he knows, and the trio (eventually) feel confident enough to press harder still upon the EIC, and in particular Sir Stu. Soon after, Delaney is arrested, but he appears unfazed by the whole rigmarole. He is soundly beaten and stripped naked upon his arrival (no little soaps or slippers in this hotel). He is then promptly tortured – waterboarding, flogging, hanging upside down, the works.
The final section of the episode follows on from the cloak-and-dagger meeting Delaney, Godfrey and Chichester had. Chichester, apparently knowing that timing is everything, waits until Sir Stu is playing a celebratory round of golf, and interrupts his leisurely mood with the bad news. Sir Stu attempts to act unfazed, however when Chichester reveals that the testimony has come from none other than Godfrey, the pain and alarm register immediately upon Sir Stu’s wretched face. Back to Delaney and, in a most anticipated development, he is holding up rather nicely to the unrelenting torture (he’s still having visions and is shaking violently, but that’s hardly news). Delaney gives up nothing other than to splutter “Stuart Strange” on an infinite loop. The Prince Regent, tired of the nonsense, eventually orders a meeting between Sir Stu and Jimmy. “My God, look at you,” mocks Sir Stu upon arriving to Delaney’s battered and bruised state. Delaney lifts his swollen head and asserts, “I have a use for you.” YES!
Hot damn! The brutality of the torture, the constant swings in momentum (on both sides of this war of attrition), the treachery, the perceived treachery, the many moving pieces, and, lastly, Delaney’s smug cliff-hanger all add up to a positively engaging episode. How does a man who is – literally and figuratively – in such a perilous position have the assuredness to be so brash and mocking? With just one episode to go, I literally have no idea how this is going to end, or with whom on top. And I couldn’t be happier. Exactly what did Delaney mean in his spluttering quip to Stu? Stay tuned to find out!
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10