Directed by Anders Engström
Written by Ben Hervey & Steven Knight
At last we saw James Keziah Delaney (Tom Hardy) he was at a party, stuck between Lorna Bow (Jessie Buckley) and his half-sister, his true love, Zilpha Geary (Oona Chaplin). And then Zilpha’s husband Thorne (Jefferson Hall) challenged him to a duel.
We open as James and Thorne are rowed in their respective boats on a foggy river. They head to a small island, a patch of land where others including Thoyt (Nicholas Woodeson) wait to watch the duel. A gypsy woman owns the land, between two parishes. Perfect place for a duel, no? Pistols are inspected, and all is ready; Lorna’s even walked through the walker to the island without a boat, like a bad ass. According to the “Irish Code of 1777” they go to first blood, no second shots afterwards, and a doctor stands waiting to treat them.
When they line up and the pistols are drawn, a shot from Thorne doesn’t do much to James. Because there is no bullet in his pistol. The young man meant to help Thorne was obviously sent by the East India Company. James remarks that his life is, apparently, “more precious” than that of Thorne. Yikes. Another blow to the man’s impossibly fragile ego. However, when Zilpha sees her husband return she assumes things worked out for the better, but he of course responds with his usual half-paranoia, half-bottled up anger.
At home James is tended to by the ever faithful, ever hopeful Brace (David Heyman), whose faith does dwindle a bit in the face of his master and friend’s unpredictable behaviour. Meanwhile, James confides more in Lorna, whose interest in things is obviously more than just money; she cares. How much, who knows. But she does, enough to not want to see him dead. She meets Winter, too, who also doesn’t want Delaney to die, either. Can they help that? Or is it inevitable?
The East India Company discovers their warehouse raided, as James heads off into the wilderness. He catches a man following him: “Are you King or are you company?” Instead of killing the man, he leaves him with a few nasty cuts to tell his friends about when he gets back. Back at James’ new factory Cholmondeley (Tom Hollander) is working steadfast on his gunpowder formula and things are going as planned. Four weeks to go if he’s given an assistant.
Lorna discovers a trunk at the Delaney house, one which Brace seems to hate. He’d rather burn the thing, saying that inside is “the truth.” And what exactly is that? Sounds dangerous.
In town James goes to see Ibbotson (Christopher Fairbank) for a ship’s sail; the man who takes care of the boy, y’know, the one that could be James’ son, or his brother, or whatever. And this will be the chemist’s apprentice during the gunpowder process. Now, that’s an interesting little twist. Of course Atticus (Stephen Graham) is still in the mix. James asks him and his crew about the bounty on information concerning his business around the city. He claims he knows who’s considering giving him up. Then he cuts a man’s thumb off: “I am inside your heads, gentleman, always.” After that it’s off to see Helga (Franka Potente) and her harem, asking for help with the Company men. He offers the thumb up to show he’ll help them, and with a ruthless attitude.
Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce) is in a foul mood with Delaney making the Company look like a bunch of idiots. “We are richer than God,” he exclaims while making clear they must squash the problem. Poor Godfrey (Edward Hogg) sits at the table, visibly worried for his safety after aiding the man the Company wants to ruin. At the same time a man from the Company searching for information, threatening one of Helga’s girls, is dispatched bloodily, left with a note on his chest to make sure there’s no misunderstandings: the devil Delaney did the deed.
And what of that devil? The Gothic feel of the series keeps poking its head through, peeking at us, and we’ve not yet understood it all. Which I enjoy. There’s plenty to keep us intrigued, or at least myself, anyways. The mystery behind James’ time in Africa, all he experienced, is gripping me. “Everybody‘s scared of you,” Cholmondeley tells him at one point; very fitting, and true.
In the big, old house, James searches for the Nootka Sound Treaty, signed between him and the Natives. The land was bought for gunpowder and not much else, which included his mother, something he obviously wrestles with in his soul. His mother wouldn’t play along, so she was sent to an insane asylum by Horace; shit, that’s brutal. And then amongst the papers James searches, he finds that very document.
Back with George IV, Prince Regent (Mark Gatiss), he’s eating and getting fatter, his health truly starting to decline in the decadence of his luxury. His man Solomon Coop (Jason Watkins) continues advising him on the best course of action going forward, concerning the East India Company. Coop believes it best to go headlong at Sir Stuart, as they have a bit of dirt on him apparently.
Again, James meets with Dr. Dumbarton (Michael Kelly) in his cholera-ridden building. Perfect for their clandestine chats. The doctor needs his help with gunpowder, and he knows about the farmhouse, the factory James has going with Cholmondeley. So many spies, everywhere! Everybody has spies, especially an American in London. Not only that, Dumbarton even knows Cholmondeley, too. The plot thickens. The doctor wishes James to make chlorate gunpowder, a process the French attempted and one that created an undesired, massive explosion. There’s more danger now than before, and that’s saying something. Needless to say, Cholmondeley isn’t exactly thrilled with the prospect, him being the chemist and all.
In the Geary household things are becoming worse. Thorne finds his wife fantasising in bed again, prompting him into nasty violence. He beats her badly on the floor. You can already see how things will turn out for him in the end, if you couldn’t already.
George Chichester (Lucian Msamati) is called to Mr. Coop’s office, to talk about a slave ship which sank; 280 souls, even children, drowned at sea. He’s given a bit of offence, as Coop assumes he had relatives aboard, at which Chichester chuckles briefly. He believes the ship was sank deliberately by slavers, supposedly men of the EIC. Coop delivers him a letter from the Prince Regent; good news, he says. Things are about to get dicey. There’s a new commission opened into the sinking of the Influence, the slave ship, and this has Sir Stuart more prickly than you can even imagine. He sets about a frantic rush to set things in place to cover their asses.
James goes to see Countess Musgrove (Marina Hands) about the gunpowder, though she plays coy and talks of Nootka Sound, their overall deal. She pressures James to trust her, something on which he isn’t too keen. Every relationship he has is a slippery one, no matter with whom.
At home Zilpha is confronted by Thorne, with a priest wanting to exorcise the spirit of James that visits her in the night. Now by force they’re planning to relieve her of the demons, or so it seems. A terrifying prospect. The priest goes to work in his madness, basically molesting her as he recites nonsense about “evil come to the surface” and other wild crap. They leave her on the floor, they untie her. But this has done nothing, obviously, to change how she feels. Only that she hates Thorne more. So much so you can see his death in her eyes; it’s coming.
A fascinating episode, beginning with a bang and ending in a weird, wild way with plenty to offer for a setup leading into the following episode. Next one ought to be another whopper. I’m loving Taboo. Some others seem to think it isn’t so great, but I couldn’t care less. It’s interesting to me in so many ways. Let’s see what comes next.