Taboo: (S01E04) “Episode Four”

WARNING: FULL SPOILERS

Taboo’s fourth episode is possibly the most cohesive episode so far as nearly every plot point came together for a pretty satisfying pay off. There’s a heist, an awesomely weird character is introduced and an interestingly playful relationship developed between Delaney (Tom Hardy) and Lorna (Jessie Buckley). Even the “romantic” subplot that I have been complaining about FINALLY connected to Delaney’s plan to take down the East India Company. While the episode still had issues, it’s probably my favorite so far.

The episode picks up the morning after Lorna’s confrontation with the Duke of Richmond. As British soldiers storm the Delaney house, James urges Lorna to hold out. Curiously, even to Lorna, she does so despite a frightening threat of rape from Soloman Coop (A creepy Jason Watkins). A strange but compelling dynamic develops between Delaney and Lorna as he offers her a place in his “League of the Damned.”

After gruesomely surviving an assassination attempt, Delaney uses that League to set up a heist of an East India Company warehouse with the help of its newest member, the seemingly mad chemist Cholmondeley (Tom Hollander). Delaney also gets his first meeting with the Americans and “Carlsbad,” a woman known as Countess Musgrove at a costume party. Unfortunately, he also crosses paths with Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) and Thorne (Jefferson Hall).

We’re All Just Part of the Plan

Delaney adds two more members to his “League of the Damned” and both are intriguing for different reasons. Lorna gives Taboo its most intriguing female character. I find her more interesting than Zilpha because Lorna can handle James in a playful way. She is intrigued by the brutish rogue, much like the audience. She calls him James when Coop threatens her. But Lorna also knows how to stand up to him. She does throw away his offer of roses after all.

source: FX

I’m a little disappointed that Lorna didn’t turn out to be Carlsbad, the leader of the American spy ring, but when I think about it, that “twist” wouldn’t really fit the show. And the way she interacts with Delaney is especially intriguing. I just hope it doesn’t turn into a romance because that wouldn’t fit for the characters. For one thing, Delaney is not a “romantic” type of guy so I don’t see that happening.

Delaney has always been the eccentric center of the show, but he may get a run for his money with the arrival of Tom Hollander’s Cholmondeley. The strange chemist literally eats crap, yet manages to charm the ladies of London. Apparently, confidence mixed with bat sh*t crazy is a hell of an aphrodisiac.

Hollander looks as though he is having a ball as the character, playing well against the deadly serious Delaney. Much like Stephen Graham’s Atticus…oh sorry…ATTICUS!!!…Cholmondeley infuses some much needed black humor to Taboo. When Delaney and Lorna first enter the costume party in the latter half of the episode, it’s hilarious when the mad doctor dances around the two. He will be a character to watch.

Finally, it’s great to see Delaney use his allies to rob the East India Company’s warehouse. Delaney’s trading company in Nootka Sound depends on gunpowder, the only product that could possibly interest the natives in the area. Unfortunately, Company secretary Godfrey (Edward Hogg) tells him the British government is the only one who produces gunpowder and they won’t sell. So Cholmondeley tells him that they need saltpeter to create their own powder and the East India Company are the only ones who produce a large amount of it.

And so the League of the Damned go forth! With slit throats and blow jobs! Verily!

source: FX

I love a good build to a satisfying event in a series or film and Taboo did a great job of setting up this moment in previous episodes. The gathering of these misfits, weirdos and killers suddenly made sense, though their fates may be irrevocably changed now. Brace’s (David Hayman) words, that all these people are simply part of “the plan” are not hollow, and are most likely a hint to the future of Delaney’s allies. This is not going to end well for them and Delaney doesn’t seem to care.

I Don’t Keep Anyone Around Me Who Doesn’t Deserve What They Get

At the center of this league is the despicably charming Delaney and Hardy continues to blend his animal-like masculinity with a disturbingly effective charisma. The attempted assassination is a gruesome scene that displays Delaney’s utter determination to survive…and the bloody retribution he will inflict should he get a chance.

source: FX

As Delaney literally carves up the giant assassin, I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. The quick slashes from a knife, Delaney’s crazed eyes…it’s a testament to Hardy’s ability and Kristoffer Nyholm’s direction. Such a disturbing scene shouldn’t be this watchable.

There is an important scene between Delaney and Godfrey that I want to single out. After Godfrey tells Delaney about the gunpowder, he asks if he is being used. Delaney tells him yes, that he “deserves” it because he is only “half a man.”

There are many ways to look at this scene. Like many people of this time in history, it would seem that Delaney is being homophobic or transphobic. For such a dark character, it’s not that surprising. But I think there’s a deeply personal reason behind his words.

Remember that Delaney is completely dismissive of the society he has returned to. He finds strength in his complete disdain for the norms of “high society.” Whenever anyone calls out the rumors of his “savagery” it barely registers with him. So when he sees Godfrey, someone I believe he genuinely cared for at one point in his life, not being true to himself, it disgusts him.

Delaney doesn’t hate Godfrey because he is homosexual…he hates him because he’s trying to hide it. Godfrey is half a man; one half adheres to his natural instincts while the other lives by the rules of an unfair society.

This is probably why Delaney finds Lorna intriguing. She’s someone who doesn’t quite fit into society’s roles. Unlike another woman he cares for deeply…

The Women in Delaney’s Life

The Zilpha-James subplot has been my least favorite part of Taboo. At first, the scenes with Zilpha are as tedious as before. The mystery surrounding Delaney’s possible supernatural powers has been a favorite teaser of mine, but seeing him explicitly able to enter Zilpha’s dreams and…modesty…is a little off putting. And the scene felt gratuitous as well.

source: FX

So I am incredibly grateful that the subplot is now linked to the overarching story. Carlsbad/Musgrove reveals that she sent the hulking assassin after Delaney, but Dumbarton (Michael Kelly) offers up Zilpha as part of their offer for Nootka Sound. These revelations show just how ruthless the Americans truly are.

It’s a disturbing view of women in this era that is probably accurate but still troubles me: Zilpha is still simply a plot device. She barely has any screen time here and in other episodes and when she does, she seemingly always has a panicked look on her face and barely speaks. Oona Chaplin has an incredibly expressive face, but it’s getting a little old, especially considering how much Lorna’s character has evolved in less time. It’s still very frustrating.

A Duel

I love that the episode ends with Thorne challenging Delaney to a duel, mostly because it may advance the Zilpha story further. It is a fitting end to the best episode so far in Taboo’s young run. The show seems to have hit a solid stride and I hope it continues to build momentum.

SCORE: 8 OUT OF 10

Taboo airs Tuesdays at 10pm on FX in the US