TV Review: Taboo: ‘Episode Six’


S1, E6: ‘Episode Six’

Strangle her in her bed, the same bed she’s contaminated.

Grade: B+




Interesting, this one. Slightly oddly paced, but we continue the streak of letting James be thrown, discombobulated and occasionally outplayed – on occasion to horrifying effect.

‘You and your sainted mother.’

Ooooooo, I like this. Not least since I used almost the exact same words to eyeroll about the role of women-as-archetypes in this show in general, and James’s poor sainted Native American Slave Mamma in particular. It feels like a shout-out, even though that can’t possibly be true. Sniff. Aww, Taboo. You shouldn’t have.

Anyway, James repeats the mantra about dad buying mum and then committing her to Bedlam, and Brace, insisting that Delaney Sr. was a good man, stamps over to lay some truth on James: that mother he venerates? She tried to drown him when he was a baby. James tells him to be ‘very very careful now’, with coiled menace and just the barest whisper of a plea (I am now fully converted to The Cult Of Hardy, BTW), but Brace holds fast. And James’s visions of his mamma now include a baby sinking. Corroboration of Brace’s account, or proof of the malleability of memory? You decide.

Clearly James wants to sort this out for himself, so he decides to engage in a little auto-waterboarding. He plunges his head under the water, feels hands about his throat and surfaces, gasping. While his son (we think) looks on in horror. James sees the boy and does his very best Bill Sykes on him, while the kid stares back with his doe-eyes over his miniature highwayman’s mask. Because, you see…

‘Steady as she goes.’

Back in Breaking Bad: 1814, Cholmondeley is explaining how very much more volatile everything becomes in the presence of chlorate, and how the compound is going to require constant care and vigilance until the powder’s finished. We see shifts tending anxiously to their vats, and changes of guard as they almost – perilously – doze at the wheel. But then, at long last, they have coaxed gunpowder into being. Gunpowder they are transporting to the Americans in coffins, pretending that the contents are six human souls slain by cholera. Six human souls and a child – James’s son has stashed himself in one of the coffins, and has clearly inherited enough of his dad’s mojo to put the wind up the sceptical Watchman who peeks into the carriage.

‘I think it’s time we started moving some pieces.’

George Chichester is on the case, outlining to Sir Stuart’s flunkies his surmise that an East India Company sloop was trading slaves, even with an abolitionist on its board meaning that it no longer officially did so. In 1804, a sloop called the Cornwallis changed names to The Influence at Cabinda, hired manifestly inadequate crew, and ran aground days later. Then to nail the cargo door shut and drown all aboard to destroy the evidence. That’s not all: Chichester asks a very pointed question about Sir Stuart’s brother and his sugar plantation in Antigua. At which Sir Stuart’s eyes snap open and he announces that it’s time for a counterattack.

And hoo boy, does he have ammunition (forgive the pun). The farmer who was raising James’s son has finally snapped and poured out his fear that he’s let the devil into his life. Under the seal of the confessional – except that £25 will break the seal. Godfrey gets word to James, and James now has 50 kegs of highly unstable gunpowder to shift. Over water.

‘Leave the body where it will be found…you can keep the heart.’

And there is no question that once Sir Stuart decides to get moving, he gets moving. He blows up James’s ship, and James gets the message loud and clear. He kills the thumbless mook who was supposed to be watching his ship, and cuts out his heart. Which, by the way, he also did to the farmer who ratted him out. James likes his trophies, doesn’t he?

‘Where is the body?’

Goodness, that was…unceremonious. Zilpha’s been toying with that wicked little blade since the end of the last episode, whispering an ecstatic ‘teach me’ as she circles around her hapless rapist of a husband. I watch glumly as we get another round of ‘Geary Is an Irredeemable Drunken Lout’, with him creeping out Lorna, and then storming in on Zilpha in the bathtub with a ‘Never lock your door or close your robe to me again’. I thought we were in for Brute/Glower/Toy With Dagger/Lather/Rinse/Repeat until the end of the season. But nope. Zilpha straddles her husband one night, plunges a dagger into his guts and then flits off to her brother. Who receives her with a certain conspicuous lack of joyous abandon.

Oona Chaplin finally gets something to do as Zilpha rapturously whispers that she killed her husband ‘just as you told me to’. James takes this with his usual impassivity, but an aborted ‘When did I-?’ tells its own tale. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. First Mummy, then sister? James must be looking at Lorna and thinking it’s only a matter of time before she discovers her own inner murderous schizophrenic. In any case, James is going to dispose of the body and send Zilpha home, for her own safety. And that cholera epidemic takes another victim…

And of course James and Zilpha go at it on the marital bed. Unfortunately, while he is in the throes of some sweet, sweet family lovin’, that pesky vision of his mother throttling him takes him in a vice-like grip. And he comes to, to find his own hands wrapped around Zilpha’s throat, while she gapes at him with a face that very clearly says ‘This is not how I thought this day would go.’ Oh James James James.  Not so easy being the Mad Prophet of Shoreditch. No wonder the next time we see James, he’s striking a flint near that unstable gunpowder.

‘We will allow him to think that he is one step ahead, while we exploit what is undefended.’

And who might that be, Sir Stuart? Take your pick. James’s league of the Damned is uniquely vulnerable, to a man and woman. He has a sister who killed her rapist sot of a husband, who visibly beat her. He has a gay Company spy, a friend with an arrest warrant out for attempted murder of one of the highest in the land, and a hooker with a heart of gold.

And what about the most undefended of all? James is realising that it’s not so easy to anticipate everybody else’s moves if you’re deep in the game yourself. Drunk, wild-eyed and furious, he’s never looked more vulnerable. And when Moppet Winter hovers near him holding out a bottle of liquor and the vision grips him, a chill comes over me. As well it might: James comes to next morning, face first in the mud. And stretched out on the riverbanks, ashen and very obviously dead, is young Winter.

And shit’s getting real now, son. I used to roll my eyes at what I thought was Taboo’s tendency to romanticise madness or James’s prophetic visions, but I am completely on board if these things have real consequences (even if the consequence is the offing of an irritatingly precocious moppet). And more to the point, it introduces real stakes and real jeopardy into the situation now. I have welcomed the last two episodes’ weakening of James’s infallibility, and what darker and more insidious way to tell us to be wary of our hero, than by reminding us that he may not always be at home in his own mind? Even if James is being gaslit and someone else did the deed, there is something chilling about the idea that you could glance into James’s eyes, and someone else may be looking back at you.

Odds and sods

  • So…could James not use one of his diamonds to buy himself another ship? No?

One thought on “TV Review: Taboo: ‘Episode Six’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s