What Exactly Is Tom Hardy's Plan as 'Taboo' Nears the Finale?
Note: This article contains spoilers from the first five episodes of the FX drama Taboo, an amazing show that everyone should be watching.
It's hard to get a read on James Keziah Delaney, the marble-mouthed protagonist of FX's historical drama Taboo. Tom Hardy, the actor who plays him and co-created the character with his father Chips, often portrays troubled men with cool haircuts, funny accents, and opaque motivations. About halfway through the most recent episode, he cuts off the thumb of a ruffian who works for him, holds it in the air for his crew members to see, and bellows, "I am inside your heads, gentlemen." No, shit: what a management tactic.
But, after five darkly lit hours of stabbing and scheming, are we, the loyal Taboo-lovers, inside Delaney's head? Have we found out what's under that black top hat? Or what makes him tick? Not especially. (We do know he hates pants and loves eating whole eggs in one bite.) While Delaney has carefully played the stuffy suits of the East India Company off against the weasley bureaucrats of the British government, his endgame remains as vague as his mysterious backstory. He's a cypher in a stylish trench-coat.
And there's only three episodes left. That's not much time for writer Steven Knight to cook up the explosive narrative gunpowder he'll need to really blow the lid off this squalid costume party. After an episode that saw considerably less action (and psychic sex) than last week, let's take a look at what Delaney has on his plate for the final run of the series. One thing's for sure: there will be blood -- and eggs.
Delaney Plan #1: Keep humiliating your evil brother-in-law
In a nice twist, this episode kicked off soon after the last one ended, with Delaney agreeing to a Barry Lyndon-like duel against his brother-in-law Thorne Geary, who is still a little touchy about his wife and Delaney's incestuous relationship. Because nothing on Taboo can take place on a sunny day, the pair meet on what appears to be an island in some foggy marsh. You'd think they'd have a nice field to duel in. Poor Lorna Bow, who has become increasingly infatuated with Delaney, gets her dress soaked after wading through the water. "I was bored," she says when asked why she's there. "And I've never seen a man shot before." Fair enough.
The actual duel is resolved quickly: Geary fires and "misses" because his gun was tampered with and Delaney, proving that he's the better man once again, ends up shooting the company man who messed with the weapon. So, someone dies, but it's not Geary or Delaney. Logic suggests that this would have been an effective time for Delaney to kill his brother-in-law and end their feud once and for all. But that's not Delaney's style: he'd rather keep embarrassing Geary over and over. It's not enough that he clearly used to have sex with his wife. He needs to destroy him slowly and methodically.
It's a shame that the word "cuck," derived from the term cuckold, has taken on such a loaded political meaning in recent years because Geary, played with simpering cruelty by Jefferson Hall, is really the epitome of the term. Sorry, dude is a cuck. A good portion of this show is devoted to Delaney, the roguish badass with an occasionally discernible moral code, emasculating his brother-in-law by telepathically having sex with his wife while she dreams.
It's hard to know exactly what Delaney's plan is here. If he wanted to kill Geary, he'd be dead. Maybe the real "taboo" of the series is that Delaney just gets off on the humiliation. The only problem is that Zilpha might kill Geary really soon.
Delaney Plan #2: Blow up all your enemies with gunpowder
It's official: Dr. George Cholmondeley is the best non-Delaney character on this show. It's not even close. After only two episodes, the chemical-crazed doctor (English actor extraordinaire Tom Hollander) has changed from a gas-huffing, shit-eating, sex-loving renegade to a studious mixer of gunpowder and surrogate father to Delaney's little boy. (Yes, this episode seemed to establish that the cute boy at the barn is Delaney's son.) The scenes between child and the scientist have a Masterpiece Theater Presents: Breaking Bad vibe. Give Hollander the Emmy already.
What exactly is Cholmondeley cooking up? It's gunpowder, which initially Delaney needed to trade with the Nootka tribe on the real-life stretch of land that he received from his father, but now the American spy from House of Cards wants the explosive material for himself. You see, those crafty Yanks have discovered the location of Delaney's secret barn and they want Delaney to speed up the powder-mixing process through a very dangerous method referred to as the "French experiment." How crazy is the French experiment? Even the crazy chemist doesn't want to do it. Obviously, this is a bad idea.
But Delaney is not scared by bad ideas -- you've seen how he eats an egg, right? He pressures Cholmondeley to finish the powder in a few days so he can provide it to the Americans, who seem to be in the prime position to benefit from Delaney's schemes because the British are too distracted destroying each other. At this point, the issue might be that Delaney is putting too much trust in Americans. Are they really going to let him sail off to a peaceful life on Nootka Sound? I'm American, so I can say this: don't trust us, Delaney.
Delaney Plan #3: Run away with your half-sister
As noted earlier, Delaney's half-sister Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) ends this episode in a way that suggests she might kill her husband. Here's what I didn't mention: a priest performs an exorcism on her. A really gross, gropey exorcism. She gets tied to the floor, sprinkled with holy water, and sweated on by a man of the cloth. The whole thing is grotesque. Hopefully, next week Zilpha will get to plunge that sharp object she pulled from her desk drawer right as the episode came to a close into Geary's slimy, little heart.
Assuming Zilpha kills Geary, which is something that Delaney failed to do this week, the two might finally run off together and open a bed and breakfast on Nootka Sound. How charming, right? (Here's the menu: hard-boiled eggs.) The potential wrenches that could be thrown into this plan: the British, the Americans, the East India Company, and even Lorna Bow could all decide to kill Delaney before the series ends. Also, let's not forget Bryce. He's up to something.
Of course, all this speculation is rooted in the idea that Delaney truly pines for Zilpha and wants to build a better life with her. His devotion to her is one of the few character qualities that's remained consistent throughout each episode of bloodletting, blackmailing, and saltpeter stealing. But, the more time we spend with Delaney, the more we learn he's loyal to no one. While that's allowed him to get an advantage on some of the most powerful people in London, it also might be his undoing. That is, if he doesn't choke on an egg first.
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