Note: This article contains major spoilers from the first seven episodes of the FX drama Taboo, an amazing show that everyone should be watching.
It finally happened: Someone shot off Tom Hardy's top hat. Thank God. For weeks, loyal Taboo watchers have observed James Keziah Delaney's every twitch, grunt, and eye roll, patiently waiting for the moment a bullet might pierce the ridiculous shiny black material perched upon his head. The grieving Helga delivered the shot, convinced that Delaney killed her daughter, Winter, in last week's cliffhanger. The fashion accessory is no more. RIP, top hat.
Why focus on this moment of sartorial combat? Because it was one of the few moments of levity in last night's episode of Taboo, a resolutely grim penultimate hour which found our typically cocksure hero tortured for long stretches of time. After spurning his half-sister (and part-time lover) Zilpha and learning his trusty butler Brace killed his father, Delaney's scheme to play the East India Company and the British monarchy against each other finally blew up in his face. It wasn't pretty.
However, as bleak as Delaney's adventures are, there's still hope that Hardy will foil the show's cantankerous villains, woo his half-sister back, and set sail for Nootka Sound with his motley crew of the damned. But here are the things that need to happen before he leaves this grimy, muck-entrenched town behind.
Someone has to pay for what happened to the Cornwallis
The last few episodes of Taboo have focussed on the controversial sinking of the Cornwallis, an East India Company vessel that was illegally involved in the slave trade and intentionally capsized by its own crew to avoid prosecution. As we've seen in stormy flashbacks throughout the show, Delaney was a member of the Cornwallis crew, and guilt over the incident fuels his personal grudge against Jonathan Pryce's Sir Stuart Strange, who covered up this inhumane act. As often happens in the final hours of any prestige drama, these long-buried secrets are now coming to the surface.
But why now? It's mostly because of the presence of George Chichester, played by a droll Lucian Msamati. On the orders of the prince regent's Secretary Coop, the lawyer has been building a case against the mighty East India Company, and in last night's episode, finally found his key witness: Michael Godfrey, the minute-taker for the Company and Delaney's old naval school friend. With Godfrey's testimony -- not to mention the information provided by Delaney -- Chichester should be able to take down Strange and his stuffy goons rather quickly. That is, as long as their punishment is still in the interest of the British government.
All this business leaves Delaney in a rather perilous position. For one thing, he was involved in the horrific sinking of the Cornwallis. Also, by involving Michael in the case, he's putting his friend at great risk. Towards the end of the episode, Michael is forced to go into hiding, climbing aboard a boat headed to some secret location. "I suggest that you leave very quickly -- and very very quietly, " Delaney tells him before he departs. "Or you can stay for the extreme violence that is coming your way." Anyone who watched the rest of the episode knows Delaney wasn't kidding around.
Delaney needs to make peace with his friends
Judging from the first seven episodes of this season, Delaney is a bad friend. Sure, he looks like he can have a fun time -- he drinks too much, he says witty things, he cuts up people with his knife -- but after a couple days he'd either have you stealing saltpeter, mixing gunpowder, or betraying the company you work for. He's a tough hang. Everyone learned that this episode.
The aforementioned hat-shooter Helga got so mad at Delaney that she turned him in for treason to the East India Company. Dr Edgar Dumbarton, the American spy played by Michael Kelly from House of Cards, is going to have to pack up his little flag-dyeing shop and hit the road. Lorna Bow, the actress who married Delaney's dead father, ended up having to play detective on his behalf, solving the murder of Winter by chatting up various cherubic street hoodlums. Even Delaney's friend with the compass head tattoo is getting tired of his shit.
Delaney's got a lot of work to do in the finale. He needs to repair at least a few of these broken relationships -- particularly the ones with the Americans -- if he hopes to escape London alive. After all, no man is an island -- even if he owns his own island in Canada.
Delaney can't get tortured anymore
Taboo briefly turned into Saw meets 24 last night -- and it wasn't a particularly pleasant viewing experience. I'm sure writer Steven Knight did copious amounts of research on 19th-century torture methods -- like most things on this show, the bodily torment felt grimly authentic -- but did we have to see every example he found? After watching a man waterboard Delaney, do we need to see a gimp mask strapped to his face as he's fed hallucinogenics through a snorkel? And did it have to be so damn dark? There were parts I couldn't even make out.
And it didn't even work. In a twist that would only be surprising if you've never watched another episode of this show about a seemingly invincible and unflappable anti-hero, Delaney is impervious to physical coercion. You can't break him -- no matter how many Freudian flashbacks he has about his mother. He always gets what he wants. "I will give you all the information you request," says Delaney at the beginning of his persecution. "But in exchange I will need a meeting with Sir Stuart Strange of the East India Company."
At the end of the hour, we found our hero freed from his snorkel mask and sitting across from Sir Stuart Strange. Delaney wins again. After Strange snivels in his direction, asking him what exactly he wants, Delaney is as confident as ever. He hasn't been broken. He hasn't been humbled. He doesn't even seem fazed. "I have a use for you," says Delaney, almost making it seem like he wanted to get captured, beaten, and tortured for hours just to arrive at this moment. In any other show, that would be preposterous. In Taboo, it's all part of Delaney's master plan.
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