Taboo (S01E05): “Episode Five”

WARNING: FULL SPOILERS

The duel between Thorne (Jefferson Hall) and Delaney (Tom Hardy) kicks off the Fifth Episode of Taboo and it takes a surprising turn. Thorne’s second is an East India Company saboteur and tries to get him killed. Delaney saves the insecure man, satisfied that knowing the Company tried to kill him is enough punishment.

That unpleasantness done with, Delaney begins to seal up any “leaks” in his League of the Damned. From casually de-thumbing one of Atticus’ (Stephen Graham) men to offering diamonds to Helga’s (Franka Potente) ladies in exchange for silence, he seemingly succeeds. However, Dumbarton (Michael Kelly) and the Americans discover the location of Delaney’s secret factory, where Cholmondeley (Tom Hollander) is making gunpowder. He is blackmailed into providing powder to the Americans utilizing a faster but extremely dangerous procedure.

On a more personal level, Lorna finally brings the elder Delaney’s trunk to James. The dynamic between the two continues to evolve in surprising ways as Lorna expresses a desire to see “James” live. Delaney also interacts with his son, making the young boy an apprentice of sorts to his mad chemist.

After Thorne takes out his latest embarrassment on Zilpha, the previously meek woman seemingly embraces her true desires. Put through a demeaning “exorcism” at the hands of a lecherous priest, she later implores someone to “guide” her and “teach” her as she brandishes a large needle in front of her very worried husband.

Taboo’s Fifth Episode is a strange but wonderful animal. While Tom Hardy’s Delaney continues to exude his brutish charm, a very cool thing happens: The women become the most compelling characters. Lorna (Jessie Buckley) continues to fascinate both the audience and “James,” and Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) finally grows a backbone. This is a solid episode because of how the women step up and take on bigger roles in the story.

The Women in Delaney’s Life

Delaney and Lorna continue to have a fascinating relationship. I’m not a fan of the two getting together in a romantic way, but there are hints of an affection developing between them. And I have to admit, I do like the way it’s being portrayed.

Lorna has taken on the role of an audience surrogate. Like us, she is charmed by the odd man. But she is also troubled by his “madness” and disregard for his own safety. As she says, she cares if Delaney dies for the robbery and she wants him to care as well.

source: FX/BBC One

The fact that Lorna isn’t head over heels for the troubled man gives the character strength. She isn’t some stupid girl falling for an obviously dangerous man. Buckley manages to keep that sly energy to the character throughout her interactions with Delaney while also showing genuine affection for him.

On the other side, Delaney appears perplexed by his feelings towards Lorna. His relationship with Zilpha has always been more predatory…I dare say that he is no better than the uptight Thorne. He simply wants to devour her.

However, when Cholmondeley expresses interest in Lorna, Delaney just stares disapprovingly. Other times he looks confused after talking with her. He feels no need for “traditional” relationships but he seems to be fascinated by Lorna. Those long pauses seem to be Delaney grinding his gears, perplexed by his need to protect her. Hardy has always been an actor who can act with more than his dialogue and this is a prime example.

And Zilpha.

source: FX/BBC One

Oh my God, Zilpha!

Zilpha finally stepped up in an extremely satisfying way as she seems ready to stand up to her blowhard husband Thorne. That frustration that appeared in the first episode makes a long awaited return here as she gets fed up with Thorne using her as a punching bag every time his masculinity takes a blow.

First, he refuses to tell her Delaney’s fate in the duel, relishing in his control of her emotions. His ego has taken a blow and this is a sick way to try and exert control. But in a horrific turn, he literally tries to beat Delaney “out” of her when he catches her calling his name in her sleep. Thorne calls in a priest to exorcise her “demons” despite her objections.

The exorcism scene is scary for some very different reasons. For one, the priest Thorne brings in is a pervert who eagerly feels Zilpha up as she lies restrained on the floor. It’s not only a callback to Lorna’s near rape at the hands of Soloman Coop (Jason Watkins), but also the fate of Delaney’s mother. We learn she was an Native American who was institutionalized because she refused to forsake her heritage by pretending to be Spanish or some other acceptable “exotic” nationality.

All suffered at the hands of a patriarchal society that does its best to control every aspect of a woman’s life. Religion, sexual desire…both are unfairly controlled by men in this supposedly civilized high society. As Zilpha finally comes to after her ordeal, she is finally fed up with conforming to a society that allows this kind of abuse. I have to admit, when she brandishes that needle, it is incredibly satisfying.

I may owe an apologize to the creative powers behind Taboo. They may have trolled everyone into believing that Zilpha’s storyline was going nowhere. Looking back at Oona Chaplin’s performance, it was truly masterful. That deer in the headlights look she had in the first four episodes wasn’t out of fear…it was her trying to keep her true self under wraps.

Set Up For a Fall?

From the duel to the rampage through his allies, Delaney is his usual darkly charming self in the early stages of the episode. In a beautifully shot opening, we follow Thorne and Delaney on the morning of their duel. As the two approach the small island in row boats, each is framed perfectly: Delaney casually alone in his black top hat, Thorne and his second regal in his confidence.

source: FX/BBC One

Of course, Delaney wins the duel, taking Thorne down a peg once again. Honestly, that never gets old. His rampage to keep his secret gunpowder factory safe is just as successful. While Hardy continues to inject dark humor and charm into Delaney’s exploits, it felt a little too familiar. In many ways, much of these actions feel like simple errands. He has too much power, an unbeatable protagonist.

However, despite all of his carefully laid plans, Delaney faces some near misses and outright failures. In the duel, he might have died if not for the saboteur’s interference. Thorne does hit him in the chest. And Dumbarton finds out about the secret factory despite all his precautions.

source: FX/BBC One

All of this adds a very real fallibility to the man who has everything figured out. There are people who can outsmart him…and it makes it much more exciting. That said, Delaney does find out that the Americans will give him the monopoly on the tea trade at Nootka Sound. He wins once again.

Delaney has his most interesting scenes with his son. This episode (And Taboo overall) establishes how much fear he instills in those around him. Naturally, the boy is just as scared and Delaney is happy to encourage it.

Yet Delaney can’t help bringing the boy in. Hardy’s gives the character subtly exaggerated looks during his interactions with his son. He plays it up perfectly as Delaney wants the boy to fear him and more importantly not be like him. Remember, he doesn’t want the boy to take after him. What better way to do that than scare the living crap out of him?

The episode concludes with Strange (Jonathan Pryce) on the ropes as the Crown decides to prosecute him for losing the powder stolen in the previous episode. Apparently, he played some role in the sinking of a slave ship…could this be Delaney’s ship? Who am I kidding, it has to be the ship Delaney was on…why bring it up if it isn’t?

I like the pace Taboo is on and love that Zilpha is finally coming into her own. The character is very intriguing now especially now that the show is getting close to its conclusion. This should be fun.

SCORE: 9 OUT OF 10

Taboo airs Tuesdays at 10pm on FX in the United States

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