I have a confession: I was pretty lukewarm on the first few episodes of Taboo. As much as I got a kick out of Tom Hardy’s bizarre performance, the show hadn’t connected with me. But that’s been slowly changing, and I can now say that after Tuesday’s explosive episode, I’m officially a resident of Taboo Island.
Initially, Taboo eased the audience in, gradually setting up this new world and casting its wide net of characters, but there was nothing of ease about the series’ sixth installment. The episode was chock full of major events that could serve as the last shot on most shows. Here, they were just one of many. Among the game-changing moments were Zilpha killing Geary; Delaney and Zilpha making love; Delaney’s ship being blown up by the EIC; and Winter left for dead, possibly becoming Delaney’s latest victim.
Before we get to the shocking end, let’s rewind to the start. Even though we’ve never met her, Delaney’s late mother has been one of Taboo‘s most important figures. Her memory and her death drive and haunts him. As the troubled man continues to have visions, presumably of his mother, Brace reveals that Delaney doesn’t know everything about her. The servant tells a story of Delaney’s mother bringing her son to a lake to drown him, a move that resulted in her being hospitalized. “She wanted you dead, James,” Brace admits. This new intel only adds to Delaney’s visions, with a baby falling to the bottom of the water now thrown in for good measure. Story time with Brace inspires Delaney to visit his mother’s grave at the abandoned Bethlem Royal Hospital. Complete with chains on the beds, it doesn’t look like a pleasant place. He begins to hear voices as he walks around the building, which isn’t a surprise since he seems to hear voices everywhere.
Delaney — who clearly has an affinity for water, be it in visions or real life — heads to the docks. As always, Winter makes a surprise appearance, prompting Delaney to recite the show’s most-used line: “Go away, Winter.” The young girl continues to remind the mad man that she’s not afraid of him, prompting him to ask what she is afraid of. “Of who they say you are — the African devil,” she responds. He then speaks an African language to her, making her immediately reconsider her whole position. “Stop staring, you’re scaring me,” she declares.
Continuing his journey through bodies of water, Delaney decides to take a quick dip in the area, which looks very similar to his visions. As he goes underwater, seeming to drown himself, he has flashbacks to the incident from his childhood. Finally popping up, he spots Robert (his son/brother), who instantly runs away.
George Chichester’s investigation has already begun to send panic through the EIC office. “He’s African; they smell fear like dogs,” quips Pettifer. They’re definitely intimidated by the “black cannonball,” and their worry only increases when Chichester stops by for an update. While many know the sunken ship as the Influence, it’s original name was the Cornwallis, a name that was changed when the ship began to carry slaves. The new information doesn’t sit well with Strange, especially when he’s told that Chichester brought up Strange’s brother, a plantation owner. Tired of being outmaneuvered, the company man compares the situation to a game of chess. “I think it’s time we start moving some pieces,” he confidently states.
Business is booming at the Delaney factory… well, luckily not literally. The extra men brought in by Delaney have proved to be very useful but also very alarming, at least in the eyes of Ibbotson, the land’s owner. He makes multiple impromptu stops to check in, and he doesn’t appear to like what he’s seeing.
NEXT: Zilpha has had enough
Delaney hasn’t been home in awhile, both depriving us of our favorite Three’s Company reboot and worrying Lorna. “He won’t be dead and he won’t be happy, you can depend on that,” Brace tells her, not easing her concerns. Her unease inspires her to make a house call to her stepdaughter/romantic rival. Unfortunately, a drunk and jobless (even bragging about it) Geary greets her. Probably not one who should speak about rumors, he teases Lorna about the stories going around about her and Delaney. “An actress who enjoys walking with a man with human flesh in his teeth,” he says.
Soon, a beaten and bruised Zilpha walks in, not showing signs of the haunted persona she gave off at end of last week’s episode. Geary continues to taunt Lorna, singing a song that he insists is being sung in the streets about Delaney. Lorna counters that people were singing that long before her stepson returned. “Before Mr. Delaney returned to London,” Geary responded. “Oh yes, the golden age.” Zilpha has had enough, telling Lorna that they can’t help and she should leave. She een refuses to call her a carriage. As much as Hardy gets credit for his facial expressions, Oona Chaplin deserves some kudos for her range of crazy looks.
It’s time to deliver the gunpowder to the Americans. The plan is to transfer the product in caskets, with the “victims” having died of cholera — a cover story they hope will keep curious eyes at bay. Before the mission begins, Delaney pulls Robert aside, confronting the young boy about what he saw by the pond. Robert, who appears to have the family gene of being quiet, stands up well to questioning. The outlaws then set off, donning cloths over their faces that both sell the cholera story and make them look pretty badass. Everything is going smoothly until they are pulled over by soldiers, who, despite the virus warning, want to look inside the caskets. Delaney and Chumley think the jig is up, but Robert shows his worth, playing dead when one of the soldiers takes a peek. The mission is soon completed, leaving Dumbarton pleased with Delaney, or, as he calls him, “an extraordinary discovery.” Delaney is glad to hear how pleased the doctor is since he wants safe passage for his ship in return.
Finally, Delaney returns home, which means one thing — wacky hijinks and comedy! As soon as Delaney kicks off his boots, Brace cracks, “You stink of cow s—.” Delaney quickly replies, “It’s horse s— actually.” The good times continue in the Delaney household. Lorna then does what any good stepmother and/or potential love interest would do: She shares with Delaney her concern for his life. Telling him of her day looking for him and the rumors she hears, Lorna says she believes he needs to stop relying on the king to protect him. It’s a really heartfelt message from Lorna, but Delaney can only hear one thing. “What did my sister say?” he asks.
Speaking of Zilpha, she might not have had much to say earlier, but she’s up to stuff now. We find her recreating the end of the last episode, rubbing a sharp object in the dark as Geary sleeps. This time, she does more than play with the object. Sitting on top of her husband, Zilpha pulls up his shirt, looking for the perfect spot on his body. Then, just as he awakens, she pushes it through his gut as an evil look comes over her face. After little time or struggle, Geary lays motionless.
While her husband’s body is still warm, Zilpha braves the rain in the middle of the night to see her brother. Her arrival confuses him, a feeling that’s only enhanced when she hugs him. “What have you done?” he asks. She chillingly responds, “I killed him, just like you said.” Uh oh, I don’t think this is quite what he intended when he started “visiting” her. The news throws him, especially the part about him telling her to do it — something he begins to ask about, but he stops himself. He’ll do what any great brother/lover would — dispose of the body. And by the time it’s morning, he’ll have a carriage bring her home. This part of the plan doesn’t sit well with Zilpha, until he explains that it’s to avoid questions.
Creating a cholera panic already helped with the gunpowder transfer, so Delaney goes back to that well again. As they don masks, Dumbarton and a nurse go to the morgue to look over Geary’s body. The doctor puts a cholera warning tag on the dead man and orders an immediate burial.
NEXT: Delaney helps his sister grieve
Strange and the EIC haven’t had many things to be excited about since Delaney’s return to London, but that’s about to (temporarily) change. The episode’s focus on the old man at the factory wasn’t for nothing: He confessed his sins to a priest and shared the news of the activity on his land. The information is met with universal praise at the EIC, well, besides Godfrey.
In full panic, Godfrey runs to Delaney’s house to warn him. Not very thankful, Delaney sends his informant away and goes to see Chumley. The scientist explains that moving the current supply of gunpowder is impossible, as it’s too explosive to transport on the bumpy roads. Not wanting any excuses, Delaney literally gives Chumley a heart for some courage. It’s the heart of the old man, who was killed and left in the church where he confessed. That sudden motivation gives Chumley an idea. To the water, a.k.a Delaney’s favorite place, it is! The men make away with the product on rowboats as the soldiers arrive to an empty building.
I told you that Strange’s happiness would be short lived. Upon being informed by Wilton of the failed seizure, the big boss comes up with a new plan. “We will allow him to think he’s one step ahead, while we exploit what is undefended,” declares Strange.
Zilpha is in true Ice Queen mode as she prepares for her husband’s funeral. Delaney shows up, but not to pay his respects, instead opting to dig the grave and then watch from a distance as he drinks liquor (victory champagne?). After the burial, the siblings are the only ones left, staring at each from afar. Then, in an extremely romantic/creepy/disturbing gesture, Delaney rides to his sister’s house, marches right into her bedroom, and barks, “Take that f—ing dress off, now.” It’s a little aggressive (especially on Valentine’s Day), but the move works as they immediately begin having sex. The passion is off the charts, until those pesky visions happen again. Nothing worse than when you’re having sex with your sister and you can’t stop thinking about your scary dead mom, am I right? It becomes too much for Delaney, causing him to retreat and seek privacy at his mother’s abandoned hospital, where the gunpowder is now being stored. Not quite the ending to the night he probably imagined.
Now that Zilpha is presumably back in his life, the next morning, Delaney goes to the second most important thing in his life — his new ship. Making his way there, he’s greeted by Wilton, who has a message from his boss. “It’s war,” he says. “The gloves are off.” The man isn’t joking, considering that moments later, the ship explodes. Looking on as his prized possession bursts into flames, Delaney is truly shocked. Having long acted untouchable, he is paying the price.
This unexpected development sends Delaney into a fit of rage that scares his associates, whom he rushes to visit. First up is Godfrey. Delaney is none too happy that his inside man didn’t give him a head’s up, though Godfrey notes that he wasn’t aware.
Next up is Atticus. Delaney seeks out his intimidating friend for two reasons: He needs help finding a new ship and insurance that no one else betrays him. Atticus has no problem assisting with the second matter, approaching the man whose thumb Delaney previously sliced off. As the man is distracted, Delaney sneaks up and kills him, even gutting him. The fact that this man turned out to be the traitor makes Atticus curious how Delaney knew it would happen, concluding it must be either reason or witchcraft. Always a good friend (except to Godfrey), Delaney allows Atticus to keep the heart. It’s pretty hard to scare a man with a head tattoo, but Delaney has accomplished it, as Atticus lets out a sigh of relief when the crazed man leaves.
A drunk Delaney then stops by Helga’s brothel, asking for just a slight favor. Maybe joking, maybe not, he recommends that she kill a captain for him so he can take that man’s ship. She’s not a fan of that plan, so he heads out, taking another bottle with him.
Where would a miserable and intoxicated Delaney go? The water, of course. Taking a dip once again, Delaney is interrupted by — you guessed it — Winter. This girl legit must just follow him around waiting for the best time to start a convo. Initially ordering her to leave because he’s “busy” and “not fit to be near” her, Delaney changes his tune when she gives him some more liquor.
Next thing we know, it’s morning, and Delaney must have had quite the alcohol-fueled evening. He wakes up face down in the mud, still at the docks. As he stands up and tries to get his bearings, he notices something by the water and moves closer. It’s Winter, and she’s dead. And not just regular dead — like, missing flesh, Delaney-victim-type dead.
What do you think? Has the showed gone to another level in the last few weeks? Did Delaney kill Winter?
For more answers, read our postmortem with co-creator Steven Knight.