The Bloodiest 'Taboo' Episode Yet Ends with a Surprise
Note: This article contains major spoilers from the first five episodes of the FX drama Taboo, an amazing show that everyone should be watching.
For all its blood, guts, and mayhem, there hasn't been much death on Taboo. Yes, occasionally James Keziah Delaney, the top-hat favoring ruffian played by series co-creator Tom Hardy, will slice up an attacker with his handy knife. But the actual body count on the series has been relatively low by basic cable drama standards. That all changed with this week's episode, which took a page from the works of the band Drowning Pool and finally let the bodies hit the floor.
Episode six of Taboo was a violent, corpse-filled one -- including the demise of one of the show's primary villains -- but it wasn't exactly the most eventful hour of television. As the eight-episode limited series approaches its finale, there's a sense that the showrunners are still moving the pieces around the table, steadily stirring the gunpowder instead of giving us a big explosion.
Before dubious metaphors completely swallow us whole, like that hardboiled egg Tom Hardy popped in his mouth in episode five, let's wipe away some of the grime and take a look at what went down this week. In other words, who died, and who survived to snarl another day?
Ding-dong: the wicked brother-in-law is deadAfter surviving a duel with Delaney, Jefferson Hall's Thorne Geary finally shuffled off this mortal coil, a victim of his own preening obnoxiousness, sniveling contempt, and odious moral behavior. Who snuffed him out? His wife -- and Delaney's half-sister -- Zilpha, who stabbed him with what looked like a really pointy hat pin. Leaning over his body like a cat, she crawled into his bed and pierced him right through the heart. It should've been a big, cathartic moment for the show. The bad guy is gone.
The only problem: the big cliffhanger ending of last week's episode implied Zilpha was going to do exactly that. In case you forgot, we last saw Zilpha standing over her dresser and pulling out the eventual murder weapon before putting it right back. When a death is telegraphed so clearly, it's up the the writers -- in this case, Steven Knight and Hardy's father, Chips -- to provide a narrative twist to create suspense. They didn't do that. Instead, we got a few scenes of her apparently working up the courage to do it, which might be realistic, but it makes for dramatically frustrating TV.
At the very least, this means that Zilpha is now free to have non-psychic sex with her half-brother. But, again, even that ends up getting disrupted. After she arrives soaking wet at Delaney's house, where he is already rocking his signature no-pants look, he behaves in a chilly manner, suddenly playing hard-to-get after weeks of casting suggestive glances her way. Later, when the two actually do hook up, Delaney has a vision of his mother drowning him, freaks out, and chokes Zilpha mid-coitus. It's all pretty disturbing. One thing is clear: these two need to see a couple's counselor.
Delaney cuts out an old man's tongueThere's lots of scurrying around in this episode. After the East India Company discovers the location of Delaney's secret barn, where his kooky doctor friend and his cute child-labor son are hard at work cooking up gunpowder, they have to quickly move their whole operation to another location. They do it by loading boats full of dangerous gunpowder, which leads to one of my favorite tropes: soldiers -- or, really, any authority figure -- tearing up a place looking for contraband that's not there. It's always funny.
So, like our nation's president, Delaney has a problem with leaks. Who can he trust? Where's the leak coming from? Why can't he control his team? It turns out he can trust Atticus, his friend with the compass head tattoo, but he absolutely cannot trust that old farmer who helped them set up the gunpowder operation. That guy gets his tongue cut off and his body dumped in a confessional booth. That's one way to fight the spread of fake news.
Later, after Delaney's ship gets blown up by the East India Company, our hero slices up another untrustworthy scoundrel feeding information to the enemy. (It's the rare situation where loose lips literally do sink ships.) Delaney deals with this betrayal in a healthy way: he kills the man, cuts out some of his internal organs, and offers them to a worried looking Atticus. He demurs. "You can keep the heart," says Delaney. "Goodnight!" In the world of Taboo, tearing out a man's heart but not eating it is seen as an act of restraint.
Poor Winter dies under mysterious circumstancesAfter having awkward, mother-vision-filled sex with his half-sister and getting his shit blown up by the East India Company, Delaney is in a foul mood. This gives Hardy a chance to do another thing serious actor like to do: play a mean, messy drunk. He's good at it, waltzing around Helga's brothel and sulking his night away. At one point, he picks up a bottle of liquor sitting on a table and says, simply, "Mine." Be honest: if Tom Hardy did that to your drink, you would let him. Dude was in Mad Max: Fury Road. His drinks are on the house, no matter how how sad and emo he gets.
Anyway, the rest of the night doesn't go very well for Delaney: he wakes up face-down in the mud. (Somehow, he still has his top hat, which seems like a very unlikely detail.) But the eventual dry-cleaning bill for his dirty jacket is the least of Delaney's worries because there's another dead body before this slightly lackluster episode draws to a close: Winter, Helga's daughter and an often inexplicable sidekick to Delaney, is found dead in a nearby boat. Sadly, she will not be traveling to Nootka Sound with Delaney and one of the show's only non-gloomy characters is gone forever.
Did Delaney kill her in his drunken stupor? Is he being framed by the wicked East India Company? Or is the Prince Regent behind it? Or maybe it's the American spies? If we've learned anything watching Taboo, it's that nothing is ever really Delaney's fault. He'll always outsmart his competitors. At least until they all die off and he's the only one left. The only body left to hit the floor will be his own.
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