Very little is sweeter than being right and being giving what you want, except of course when you were right about an incoming catastrophe and don’t know what is good for you. Unfortunately both part of that apply to me after the most recent episode of Taboo. Our characters are so low at the end of this episode that I don’t know if they can rise again in what’s left of the season.
So, let’s see what happened tonight to bring them there.
The episode opens with James having a vision/dream of his dead mother walking into a river. His butler enters, breaking him out of his trance. The butler mumbles about how James’ behavior is similar to his father’s James isn’t pleased and reminds his servant of what his father did to his mother. Angered, the butler reveals the why behind James’ mother’s mistreatment. When James was just an infant his mother tried to drown him in a river, so old Delaney had his wife committed to an asylum. James seems shocked. You are shocked, too? Well don’t be because we are not 5 minutes in and things are about to get even worse.
To ponder this revelation, James decides to go to the now defunct asylum. It’s a great moment to highlight the show’s aesthetic.
He then goes back to London where he meets Winter. They have a conversation that we can boil down to Winter saying she likes him, but is still a bit afraid of what people say he is. He answers her in an African language.
We cut to the illegal gunpowder factory where the chemist in chief make an over the top speech about the danger of chlorate (jeez guy, calm down, no great discovery was made in chemistry by being afraid of the slightest boom). He explains the procedure and puts the men to work, including James’ son. The man who owns the farm and raised the boy for ten years watches the scene, mortified.
We are then brought to the East India Company where Stu’s ‘subservients’ had been left to deal with Chichester alone. Before he enters the room, we witness a lesson in XIXth century racism. They are absolutely easy to despise, aren’t they? Anyway, Chichester joins them. Not only does he direct the entirety of the conversation, but he also undermines their racist beliefs and makes crystal clear that he knows everything about the sinking of the ship. The subservients don’t look pleased.
James is in the wood next to a river. He enters the water and sort of relives his childhood drowning. With hallucinations… What a healthy way to cope with such news! At the Delaney’s house Lorna is worried about James because he has been missing for 2 days. Against the butler’s opinion, she decides to visit Zilpha to see if she has information. There is then a tiny scene where we see Chichester looking for James at his office but not finding him.
Back at the East India Company, we meet with Stu, who has gotten some of his cool back. His subservients report on the conversation with Chichester. Stu replies with a tough chess metaphor, adding that it is their turn to make a move.
Meanwhile, Lorna waits in Zilpha’s living room. Unfortunately, Thorne joins her instead. He looks like the wreck he is, and Lorna really doesn’t want to stay in a room with him (good survival instinct, honey). But, Thorne does everything he can to make her even more uncomfortable by telling her gruesome gossip about James. Zilpha then joins them, bearing the marks of her physical abuse. Lorna is shocked by the sight, and it only worsens when she witnesses part of the mental abuse Zilpha suffers at her husband’s hand. Thankfully, Lorna manages to call Thorne out on his bullshit about James, and it seems to comfort Zilpha a little.
The next scene focuses on James at Dr. Dumbarton hospital. Turns out, the fake cholera epidemic the good doctor used as cover last episode actually happens to be true. They have a ‘good talk’ and James is vaguely insulting. Still, he informs Dr. Dumbarton that the gunpowder will be ready for delivery the next night.
We cut back to Zilpha, who is in her bath. Her husband, who definitively ticks every box of the domestic abuser, demands she open the door immediately so he can tell her some news. She still take her time unlocking the door. Once inside, he is overjoyed to announce that he has been granted a position in Australia and that they can leave “all the ridiculousness” behind them. Zilpha looks as unimpressed and unmoved as I am. She states that Australia is too far and asks him to leave her alone so she can finish bathing. He leaves.
On to the matter of the gunpowder. Back at the farm, our chemist in chief is stressing about the transport, reminding everyone that gunpowder is dangerous (least funny chemist in history, I tell you). They hide the gunpowder in coffins labeled with ‘cholera’ and leave with a small team including James, his son, the chemist, and a few others.
Unfortunately soldiers stop them at the entrance at the hospital. All seems lost when they want to open the coffins to check what’s inside. But the boy hides inside one of them and the soldiers are convinced that they are indeed transporting victims of cholera.
His bad deed and threatening of Dr. Dumbarton accomplished, James goes home. He talks with Lorna, who expresses her concern for his 3 days disappearance. She adds that she has seen Zilpha. James seems mostly unmoved by all this so Lorna has to remind him that the only thing preventing his death is the disagreement between the Crown and the Company. James only asks about what Zilpha said.
That’s how we are cleverly transitioned to Zilpha’s house. She is once again in her husband’s room, but this time she does more than look murderous. She actually kills him and, yes, he is awake during the killing.
Well, she must have run in her nightgown to the Delaney’s house because this is where we see her next. She knocks at the door, and James opens it. After hugging him, she confesses that she has killed her husband, adding “just like you said”. James seems as confused as I am with this information. Still, he plans a way to get rid of the body and make Zilpha appear innocent. However, we are left wondering about Zilpha’s sanity in all this. She looks really different from before, including the scene where we saw her alone.
At the East India Company, Stu is delighted. The owner of the farm where James has established his chemistry factory has confessed to a priest. The priest then sold the information to the Company (someone loves religion here). Now they can move against James. But, Godders was there and he runs to inform James.
Against the advice of the world’s least funny chemist, they decide to move the powder somewhere safe. And the farmer is found dead, tongue-less, in the confessional. However, even if Stu is disappointed, the Company hasn’t said its last yet.
We cut back to Zilpha, who gets ready for her husband funeral (Would they bury empty coffin? I am not an expert on that). After the burial James follows her to her house and they have sex. Unfortunately (fortunately?) James starts having hallucinations of his mother drowning him. He chokes Zilpha but manages to stop before he does too much damages. Still, it cuts their frolics short and James runs away.
We see him at the port next. He is stopped by one of the East India Company’s ‘subservients’ who basically tells him “The
Lannisters Company send its regards” just as James’ ship explodes.
James is more than upset by it, and proceeds to go threaten everyone he is working with. First Godders for not having informed him. Then Atticus, that he uses to kill the guy who was supposed to guard the ship. Finally Helga. The situation degenerates and James basically threatens everyone present in the brothel before leaving looking more than slightly intoxicated.
He is joined on the dock by Winter. He tells her to go away because he is in no state to have her near him. She says that she wants to help him and gives him another bottle. In the next scene, James wakes up by the river, face in the mud. We wanders around and finds the dead body of Winter…
Let it be known that this episode was everything that I wanted. Which makes me a pretty terrible person, even to myself. But still it was so good (if you like suffering).
The Company is so enjoyable that it is almost a crime. Every scene makes them appear as exactly the awful men they are and every actor plays it so well. Truly a delight I tell you.
James struggled! He had setbacks! His refusal to accept defeat when he can’t do anything about it anymore is also a good addition to a character that we could have considered an overachiever up to this point.
The presentation of Zilpha’s abuse is very well done. It is not romanticized. Because yes, a battered woman is not sexily battered. It has to be hard to watch, and it is. Both for us out of universe and also in universe with Lorna’s reaction. If you add that the show reminds us that the abuse is also mental, I say that this is one of the best representations of marital abuse I have seen in a piece of media not primarily focused on it.
And finally there is Atticus. Remember when I complain about James knowing about the whistleblower last episode? Well, Atticus addresses it. The whistleblower is the man he and James killed. And, after the murder, he rightfully makes the assumption that there are only two explanations for the situation:
- The man resented James for his severed thumb and betrayed him.
- James knew in advance that he was going to betray him, making it witchcraft.
When voicing these hypotheses, he looks really, really scared. So, not only do we have a shift in how James is perceived by other characters (Dr. Dumbarton looks more and more uneasy with James) which is both coherent and very enjoyable. We also have an in-universe awareness of what might be bothering the viewer. And this so very important.
Finally, with the new revelation about James’ mother, the timeline, which until now was a bit confusing, becomes more coherent. Hurray to that too!
We close this episode full of questions. What will the appearance of Chichester change for James? Has Zilpha gone irremediably mad? Can the season possibly end well for James & Co, or are they doomed as the opening suggested?
The suspense is at its peak in Taboo, and there are only two episodes left in the season. I can’t wait for next week!