Directed by Kristoffer Nyholm
Written by Steven Knight & Emily Ballou
* For a recap & review of Episode 3, click here.
* For a recap & review of Episode 5, click here.
James Delaney (Tom Hardy) can’t shake the memories of where he’s been, they’re with him all the time. All the while life does go on. Suddenly men from the Crown are looking for Lorna Bow (Jessie Buckley), so James tells her to “hold out” and he’ll sort everything proper. In the meantime, she’s cast down to some nasty old dungeon with a filthy man putting her in shackles. Solomon Coop (Jason Watkins) arrives to play his part, the rotten bastard. He threatens her physically and sexually in no uncertain terms, despicable to say the least. He urges her to sign it all over to the Crown, or else she’ll be convicted for attempted murder. And who knows what else would happen to her before she ever got into a court.
However, in the face of it all Lorna will not relent. She believes in James. This obviously angers Mr. Coop and as he further threatens her, she’s set free in the nick of time. Brace (David Hayman) is there to pick her up, too.
Oh, and you know that Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce) has his knickers in a twist. At the same time, James is off getting what information he can from the crossdressing Godfrey (Ed Hogg). He gives over what he knows of the latest East India Company movements. Apparently there’s a “blacklist” and Delaney is definitely on it. “They can‘t kill you, but they will crucify your name, and crucify those around you.”
We’re introduced to an interesting character now, a wild chemist played by Tom Hollander named Mr. Cholmondeley. He gives a demonstration for a crowd, of which Delaney is a part. Later while Cholmondeley is having sex with a fan of his, James turns up awkwardly. But all’s well when gold is literally put on the table. Seems the chemist has a process he’s very interested in.
At home, James walks in nonchalant. “All part of the plan,” his trusty caretaker Brace remarks, a bit pissed. And it’s true, though. No matter the knocks he takes Delaney looks as if he’s got it all figured out, at every turn. How long will that last? He’s juggling so many things, not least of which is the taboo love he has for his half-sister Zilpha Geary (Oona Chaplin). In an eerie sequence she experiences a sexual moment in her bed, as in his own home James does some strange ritual, as if both connected in a spiritual sense across space and time. Weird, yet cool scene. Truly conflicting moment. Then Thorne (Jefferson Hall) shows up, drunk, soaked to the bone. Wanting her, even as he detects she was just thinking of someone else. The whole thing is twisted, though it’s almost most twisted how Thorne wants to have sex with her knowing she’s thinking of James. It’s just… a ball of awfulness.
In other news, James has Cholmondeley aiding with some pigeon and cow shit chemistry. Throw in a dash of human piss on the ash of some fire. Then, in a year – gunpowder! Well, Delaney doesn’t have a year. If they can get some saltpeter, or potassium nitrate, then that cuts the time to a month. So now there’s a new journey ahead. James must go either to Burma, or an East India Company warehouse. Hmm. You know which one he’ll pick.
Great tension in a lot of Taboo‘s scenes. One of which in this episode leads up to a fight James finds himself in when attacked by a massive man on a lonely street. He knocks James totally unconscious with an old school wooden flapjack. Or does he? Delaney uses the last bit of force inside him to stab his attacker with a sneaky knife. The brutality in him comes out at certain times in such unexpected ways: “I told your friends, Nootka Sound is not for sale,” he tells the man as he butchers him with two wood-lifting picks. Followed by a perfectly shot moment where James uses his blade on the man, again. Haunting stuff.
And that’s one of the best Gothic aspects of the entire series. There’s this magical realism at play, but it’s dark. James walks around his ancient house without making a sound, to the surprise and near heart attack of poor ol’ Brace. He conducts strange rituals in the dark by himself. He goes into a near trance when defending himself, descending into tribal violence in those same moments. Truly a mythic quality about Mr. Delaney.
Now James gets an invitation from the Americans. Right now he goes to see Helga (Franka Potente), setting up a few girls for later in the evening. Then he goes to see his well of underworld information, Atticus (Stephen Graham). Thus getting more plans set in motion. That night, James heads over to the East India Company Docks, where he briefly meets Cholmondeley and receives a package. Then it’s back home to fetch Lorna and they’re off to spend their night dancing. All gets pretty awkward when James spots Zilpha, who runs off. And in the midst of all those people he nearly has what might now be known as a near PTSD attack. He finds Zilpha in the garden. They speak, Zilpha worries people know about them. He, of course, references his ghostly visitations in the night. Then Dr. Dumbarton (Michael Kelly) arrives, breaking it all up. He has things to say about their “first resort” – the man Delaney gutted in the street. The Americans want to guarantee safe passage for him, to let James flee with his half-sister, to find anonymity elsewhere. Neither side of the deal for James, despite his own leverage, is turning out to be too spectacular.
The prostitutes James paid for work their magic, providing distraction at the East India Company Docks. All the while Atticus and his motley crew infiltrate the place, killing who they must, and Helga even puts one of the men in a precarious situation herself. Everyone doing their part. At the party things rage, Thorne gets hammered. James looks worried and constantly checking the clock. Luckily Atticus and Co get the job done, blowing a whole through a door in the warehouse. They get what they need, as the soldiers are momentarily stuck in their quarters, and make off into the night. Meanwhile, Lorna’s starting to sniff out the relationship between Zilpha, who doesn’t do much to make things easy on herself.
At the party, James is hauled into a crowd by Countess Musgrove (Marina Hands). His PTSD-like symptoms return. A magician does a trick, during which he’s meant to step into a closet contraption with the Countess. They’re put inside together, and the contraption spins them around so they’re hidden. It’s all a ruse, so that the Countess and James can speak in private. He makes clear that he can be a good deal of trouble, as if he hasn’t already. The Countess doesn’t particularly settle anything, and James is left unsure. The way he looks at everyone around him, seeing the decadence of their lifestyles and the depravity into which they all fall with a bit of drink and music, it’s astonishing. The way it’s shot makes things perfectly intense.
Then Thorne goes mental, drunk off his ass. Until James takes him outside and Thorne proclaims to Zilpha: “You don‘t call him anything but nigger.” He also says this is “my society” and challenges James to a duel, at dawn. To the death. Whoa.
I never expected the James-Thorne situation to come to a head this quick, nor to this level of madness. Will he accept the duel proposed? Or will his love for Zilpha reach further and allow him to turn it away? Can his reputation stand turning down such a duel? So many questions.
Next episode ought to be intense. We’re halfway through, looking forward to seeing how the plots and the overall arc of James play out by the time the mini-series is finished. Hardy is great, Chaplin is fascinating. They’re all doing fine acting, and the cinematography, production design, all these things are on par, too. Amazing work all around!